Graham Kilmer

Thanksgiving Could Worsen State’s Pandemic

Public health officials offer ways to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 during the holidays.

By - Nov 14th, 2020 12:09 pm
2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

2019 Novel Coronavirus. Image by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

COVID-19 is surging higher in Wisconsin than it’s ever been, and the upcoming holidays have the potential to make it worse.

Public health officials are warning that the holidays will more than likely worsen the spread of COVID-19. But they say there are precautions we can take to minimize this.

Canada holds their Thanksgiving in early October, and afterward, the country saw a surge in COVID-19 cases that has been attributed to the holiday, said Dr. Ben Weston, director of medical services for Milwaukee County.

Unfortunately, this year has not been a normal one. And that means that the holidays won’t be normal either.

“I think everybody could use a normal holiday right about now,” Weston said. “But the fact is, we’re in a perilous time as a state and as a country.”

Darren Rausch, the director of the Greenfield Health Department, said during a media briefing Thursday that a lot of COVID-19 is being traced back to gatherings in the community. Schools in the area were reporting that cases and exposures were being traced back to Halloween parties, he said. Weston, too, noted that a lot of the current surge is coming from small gatherings.

Researchers at Georgia Institute of Technology have developed a map that estimates the risk level of attending gatherings based upon what county you live in, using local data on COVID-19 caseloads.

Currently, in Milwaukee County, there is a 39% probability that at least one person in a gathering of 10 will have COVID-19. In a gathering of 15, that probability shoots up to 52%. At 25 people, there is currently a 71% chance that someone in the group has COVID-19.

Given the risk of attending gatherings, public health officials are asking the public to rethink traditional holiday plans, and to take precautions before visiting your family.

If you plan to visit family during Thanksgiving, it would be best to start quarantining now. Because the holiday is only 12 days away. And given the incubation period of the virus, it’s possible to catch the virus today, and not show symptoms until after Thanksgiving.

A number of universities and public school systems are going entirely virtual, or mostly virtual after Thanksgiving break.

Dr. Weston noted that the holiday also means college students all over the state, and country, will be returning home in the coming weeks. He said college students should not take the virus lightly. “Our trends in Wisconsin are, frankly, terrible,” he said. “And the last thing any student wants to do is unknowingly bring disease back to their families or their loved-ones who are not as young and not as healthy as they are.”

Weston said there are safety measures students should consider. 

First, start quarantining or isolating immediately. Avoid interacting with anyone you don’t live with. Avoid hotspots like bars, restaurants and gyms.

Second, If you’re traveling, consider driving, either alone or with people you live with, because it’s safer than flying.

And third, get tested a few days before you return home. This can help catch asymptomatic cases before the disease is brought home to family members.

“We have two weeks starting today until Thanksgiving,” Weston said on Thursday. “If you haven’t done it already, now is the time to buckle down, the time to quarantine and to work to keep our loved ones safe.”

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Categories: Health

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