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CDC’s last-minute advice on Thanksgiving travel: Don’t do it

With a week before Thanksgiving, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel this year.

The recommendation released Thursday by the CDC is a break from previous messages in which US officials have largely refused to issue firm guidance for holiday season gatherings, leaving American families to decide. by themselves whether they took the risk or not.

The agency’s website suggests that virtual Thanksgiving presents the least risk, and that outdoor gatherings, smaller gatherings, and shorter gatherings help reduce the risk of transmitting the virus.

“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the people in your own household,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, who leads CDC’s Community Intervention and Critical Population Task Force, at a briefing with journalists.

The agency now projects a grim spike in deaths from the virus over the next four weeks, with 7,300 to 16,000 new deaths likely to be reported in the week ending December 12, 2020.

Thanksgiving has a unique place in the American collective psyche: The only national holiday where everyone traditionally takes a break and reunites with family. But convincing 300 million people to break that ritual is proving difficult, especially with disparate messages from the nation’s leaders.

The Trump administration has sent mixed signals. The White House announced Tuesday that President Donald Trump would stay in Washington for Thanksgiving, rather than travel to his Palm Beach resort, Mar-a-Lago, his usual vacation destination. But officials did not say why he changed his plans. Health and Human Services Secretary Alex Azar on Wednesday urged Americans to dine with only their immediate family, a recommendation neither Trump nor Vice President Mike Pence have made.

“Meeting indoors with people who are not members of your household is a high-risk activity for the spread of the virus,” Azar said.

This recommendation, however, comes after many Americans have already made their plans and are about to travel. As the US enters the holiday season, the country is experiencing its worst wave of the virus yet. Cases are increasing nationwide to record levels. The United States recorded 148,000 new cases Tuesday after hitting a record daily total of 190,000 on Nov. 13. Deaths from coronavirus in the US have exceeded 250,000, including 1,425 on Tuesday. Hospitalizations are at a record level.

Those numbers are likely to get worse. The virus spreads easily indoors, especially when people eat, talk, don’t wear masks, and sit close together. And contact tracing efforts are increasingly finding clusters of infections related to small private social gatherings, as opposed to the super-spread events of the early pandemic.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance Thursday, suggesting that Americans limit in-person contact and not travel.

“The CDC recommends against traveling during the Thanksgiving period,” said Henry Walke, CDC’s COVID-19 Incident Manager. The website currently suggests that virtual Thanksgiving presents the least risk, and that outdoor gatherings, smaller gatherings, and shorter gatherings help reduce the risk of viral transmission.

Even Anthony Fauci, the influential director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has struggled to avoid telling people what to do, although he has clearly pointed out that the smart move is to stay confined.

“Every household needs to do a risk-benefit assessment of what they want to do for the holidays,” Fauci said this week at a New York Times Dealbook conference. “My own family, my daughters, who are professional adult women, difficult as it may be, have made the decision that they want to protect their father.” Fauci has said that he and his wife will have dinner alone at home on Thanksgiving.

Other health experts go to great lengths to advise people how to behave on vacation, especially after months of difficult social isolation and, for many, severe financial hardship. Michael Mina, an epidemiologist at Harvard University, said he will not be at the family reunion but that some of his relatives will.

“It’s very difficult to answer when people ask me about Thanksgiving,” he said. “I’m not going to tell my grandfather, who might be in his last year of life, not to go to my parents’ house for Thanksgiving.”

Caitlin Rivers, a Johns Hopkins University professor who researches public health issues, said federal leaders could be doing much more to emphasize the importance of staying home.

“I would like people to understand the key message that it is not safe to meet people outside their home,” he said.

In addition to the confusion, advice continues to radically oscillate from one extreme to the other, depending on who is offering it. On Wednesday, White House Press Secretary Kayleigh McEnany questioned on Fox News the government’s guidelines for the holiday.

“I think a lot of the patterns you are seeing are Orwellian,” he said. “The American people know how to protect their health, they have done so for many months now, but it is Orwellian for a place like Oregon to say that if you meet with more than six, we could go to your house and arrest you and they would give you 30 days jail. That is not the American way. “

That kind of talk is having an impact. In New York, Governor Andrew Cuomo limited indoor gatherings, including Thanksgiving Day, to 10 people. But some counties in the state have backtracked, with a sheriff’s office posting on social media that “a constant barrage of government regulations and control over their daily lives has added pressure to the collective depression.”

The result is that many Americans remain confused about what is and is not appropriate for a Christmas meal amid a dangerous pandemic. Is it safe to reunite if families just get tested, or tested and quarantined? How should parents handle college students coming home from campus? How many people is too many people?

Most experts, including Rivers, agree that it is best to encourage people to stay home, but also to offer a range of alternatives that are safer than vacation as usual. Rather than a national policy, many outside public health experts have gone on to issue guidelines on how to celebrate safely.

On Thursday, the American Hospital Association, the American Medical Association, and the American Nurses Association issued an open letter to Americans asking them to cut back on holiday gatherings, urging people to wear face masks and socially distance themselves, citing increases in virus after the previous parties.

Other organizations offer a number of tools to help people measure the risk level of their activities. The Georgia Institute of Technology, for example, created an interactive tool that allows people to assess the risk that a gathering of any size can pose in a given area.

Some state leaders have not minded. His message is loud and clear: Stay home. In Colorado, where the cases have recently surfaced, Governor Jared Polis painted a very clear picture. Families should go into quarantine before the holidays, he said, or else choose to keep the party inside their home.

“The more family members make the decision to self-quarantine, the more likely it is that they won’t put a loaded gun to Grandma’s head,” he said.

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