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Why It’s Important to Stay Home This Thanksgiving, According to an Infectious Disease Doctor

More Coloradans than ever are currently hospitalized with COVID-19 and the viral spread shows no signs of easing. To curb transmission, state officials are urging residents to avoid interacting with anyone outside their household for the rest of November—and that includes Thanksgiving.

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Heather Young typically celebrates Thanksgiving by cooking for a large group of friends, family, and neighbors. This year, however, the Denver Health medical director for infection prevention will likely spend the holiday in the hospital. 

“Over the last one to two weeks, we’ve had an increasing number of [COVID-19] patients in the hospital,” Young says. “We anticipate that that number is going to get larger over the next week or two because COVID in the community shows no signs of slowing down at this point.” 

As of Tuesday, November 10, 1,116 Coloradans were hospitalized with COVID-19, according to the Colorado Department of Public Health and Environment (CDPHE). That’s the highest number ever recorded and represents a 37 percent increase in the past week alone. If the trend continues, Young fears a harrowing reality: Denver Health—and other facilities—will run out of space to treat everyone. 

“Most of the hospitals in the Front Range are really bursting at the seams with COVID patients,” she says. “We’re all very worried about hospital capacity.”

To curb the spread, Young is advising Coloradans to scale back their Thanksgiving plans this year and keep celebrations limited to just the folks from their households. “While everybody loves to have a large Thanksgiving dinner, I think that we really need to take into account that this year COVID-19 is making that really challenging and not advisable,” she says.

But what if everyone gets tested or self-quarantines for two weeks beforehand? Would that make it safe to gather?

Definitely not on the testing front. “I think taking a test beforehand is a false sense of security,” says Young. That’s because people develop a COVID-19 infection between two and 14 days after they’re exposed, so if you get tested after you’ve been unknowingly exposed, but before you’re infected—a period which can last up to two weeks—your test result will come back negative. That negative result would give you the confidence to then attend a large get-together a few days later, at which point you actually could be infectious and at risk of spreading the virus to others. 

Self-quarantining, on the other hand, would be helpful, but Young warned it’s extremely difficult to pull off as it involves avoiding all public areas including the grocery store, workplaces, and schools, for two weeks. “I just don’t know how feasible a true quarantine for 14 days is for a lot of people,” she says. (Also, Thanksgiving is two weeks away, so you’d have to start quarantining immediately.) 

That means the best, safest option is to celebrate the holiday with just your housemates this year. It’s of course not ideal, and Young acknowledges that everyone is feeling COVID fatigue right now. But, she says, “hang in there.”

“This surge is really high,” she adds. “There are a lot of people who are sick right now.” 

An estimated 1 in 100 Coloradans are currently contagious with COVID-19 and many of them don’t know it, Governor Jared Polis said in a press conference on Monday, November 9. “It is the highest prevalence in our state that it has ever been,” he warned, adding that the primary way to reduce the spread is to avoid social interactions with people outside your household. It’s a directive that he, and CDPHE, are urging for the month of November “to tamp down this deadly surge,” according to a statement that the governor’s press secretary emailed to 5280 on Wednesday. During Monday’s press conference, Polis also stressed the usual ways to stay safe—regularly washing your hands, as well as physically distancing and wearing a mask whenever you leave home. 

The governor also on Monday extended the statewide mask mandate for another 30 days. This follows the enactment on Sunday of Denver’s “home-by-10” public health order, which prohibits people from gathering with anyone who is not part of their household, and mandates that all people in the city and county of Denver must by home by 10 p.m. and stay there until 5 a.m. (with certain exceptions). 

If Coloradans don’t take the necessary precautions and choose to spend Thanksgiving with those outside their households, cases will continue to climb and hospitals will exceed their capacity, Young warns. On a more positive note, the governor announced on Monday that if such a reality occurs, the state has “surge capacity ready to come online,” which includes the field hospital set up at the Colorado Convention Center. Hopefully, however, overflow sites won’t be needed. 

“We have the tools to fight the virus,” Polis said. “But at the end of the day, it’s up to you.” 

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