With this year’s Thanksgiving the third since the onset of the pandemic, there are now many tools to help manage Covid-19 risk, including safe and widely available vaccines. But this coronavirus still presents a danger, especially to older people and those with chronic medical conditions. There are also other viruses circulating across the United States, including influenza and RSV (respiratory syncytial virus) that are causing some pediatric hospitals to be overwhelmed.
What are steps people can take to protect themselves and their loved ones against Covid-19 during Thanksgiving dinners and other gatherings over the coming holidays? Is it still important to require vaccines for attendees at such events? Does a mini-quarantine period help to reduce risk? If people are testing before gathering together, when should they test, and with what tests? And what’s the best way to protect against other circulating viruses?
To help us with these questions, I spoke with CNN Medical Analyst Dr. Leana Wen, an emergency physician, public health expert, and professor of health policy and management at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health. She is also author of “Lifelines: A Doctor’s Journey in the Fight for Public Health.”
CNN: What can people do to reduce the risk of catching Covid-19 and becoming severely ill when gathering over Thanksgiving and other winter holidays?
Dr. Leana Wen: The same mitigation measures we were discussing last Thanksgiving still apply.
The most important thing we can all do to reduce the likelihood of becoming severely ill is be up-to-date with the Covid-19 vaccine. This is particularly important for individuals who are 65 and older and adults who are immunocompromised or have other chronic medical conditions that predispose them to severe disease. Note that it takes about two weeks to reach optimal protection from the vaccine, so it’s best not to wait until just before a gathering to get inoculated. And don’t forget the flu vaccine, and for those eligible, the pneumonia vaccine, too.
The virus that causes Covid-19 is airborne, and good ventilation is key to reducing its spread. Gathering outdoors remains much safer than indoors. It’s already getting very cold in some parts of the country, though, and we know indoor settings can be made safer by opening windows and doors, using fans and HEPA filters, and limiting capacity.
The more people attend a gathering, the higher likelihood that someone could be infected and not know it. The risk can be lowered if everyone agrees to take a Covid test the day of the gathering.
Of course, masking is a precaution that will reduce risk, though it’s harder to do when attending events with food and drink. Some individuals who are particularly vulnerable and really want to avoid Covid-19 may wish to wear a high-quality N95 or equivalent mask during indoor gatherings, and only take the mask off when they are outdoors. They should also eat and drink outdoors; that way, they keep their mask on at all times while indoors around others.
CNN: If someone in the family is vulnerable, should everyone else mask and reduce their risk for several days before gathering — in essence, ent …