It’s Thanksgiving. Tradition says it’s best spent in a full house of family and friends, carving the turkey, sharing a table, then strategizing the busy weekend shopping plans.
Medical experts have this advice: Maybe next year.
With COVID-19 again on the rise, holiday traditions probably need to be temporarily halted — or at least revised.
“People have to be much more cautious,’’ said Mark Vaaler, chief medical director at St. Joseph’s Hospital-North in Lutz. “We know the nationwide (COVID) numbers and now they are definitely increasing in Florida. Most of it has been through community spread. Any of these gatherings have the potential for some negative effects.’’
But, in many cases, Vaaler said he knows Thanksgiving gatherings will go on as planned. If so, he advises they should be held with reasonable precautions.
“If you are at-risk, someone over 65, with diabetes or obesity, you should think long and hard about whether this is a year you can get by without a traditional Thanksgiving,’’ Vaaler said. “The general rule of thumb is 10 or less (people), which is usually difficult to do for a Thanksgiving gathering.
“Then it’s about common sense. Social distancing and masks. You shouldn’t bring in family or friends who you haven’t been in contact with or you’re not sure where they’ve been. We’re blessed with good weather in Florida, so I would recommend holding it outside, if possible. That would be a very good idea.’’
Vaaler said he knows his recommendations might cause some raised eyebrows from families that have clamored for the holidays.
He said that’s understandable. People are seeking normalcy after a mostly rough 2020 for schools, businesses and almost every other walk of life.
“I do have a fear that the holidays could bring even more rough times,’’ Vaaler said. “People are very, very tired of wearing masks, observing social distancing and all the rest. I think some folks will say, ‘I’m getting together with my family, no matter what,’ and they’ll conduct activities and proceed like these are normal times.
“There have been studies where a super spreader event is traced back to just one person in the gathering being positive. But, afterward, dozens were infected. Although I understand people being fatigued by COVID, it’s just a good idea to wear the masks and take precautions, especially if you’re around people you’re not normally exposed to on a daily basis.’’
Vaaler said he’s not surprised Florida is in its current state of rising COVID cases. When the numbers dropped a few months back, he detected some complacency. Anecdotally, he has noticed more people declining to get a flu shot because they feel they’re fine with masking and social distancing.
It’s a similar attitude to holiday gatherings.
“You try to warn people, but some just don’t want to hear it, or be told what to do,’’ Vaaler said. “They’re family. They want to hug and kiss because that’s how you express appreciation and love.
“The point is you can still have these gatherings if you limit the people and adhere to precautions. Stay outdoors if you can. Maybe it’s not a normal Thanksgiving, but it’s the best approach for everyone’s sake.’’
Beyond the holidays, Vaaler cautioned that there’s no quick end in sight.
“I’m pretty convinced we’ve got several more months of pain ahead of us,’’ Vaaler said. “We’re getting encouraging news about the effectiveness of vaccines to mitigate the spread, but realistically that’s at least summertime until we get enough people vaccinated.
“In the short term, I believe we’re still in a situation where COVID is part of our lives. My optimistic viewpoint is the summertime (for a return to normal). My pessimistic view is toward the end of next year. Until it’s all clear, all of us must continue to take the proper precautions.’’
By Joey Johnston
Published November 25, 2020