LIMA — Thanksgiving dinner may look different this year, as new coronavirus cases and hospitalizations in Ohio are increasing exponentially — a trend that makes holiday gatherings potentially dangerous for super-spreader events that could worsen Ohio’s coronavirus epidemic at an already precarious moment.
The approaching holiday presents a “perfect storm” of variables, said Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer for The Ohio University’s Wexner Medical Center, as many families prepare to spend Thanksgiving together despite the rapid escalation of the pandemic in the U.S.
“All of the gains that we’ve made since the initial phases of the pandemic — being able to return to work, being able to return to schools, being able to return to socializing to some extent — we’re staring at the risk of giving that all back right now,” Gonsenhausesr said.
A recent survey from the Wexner Medical Center found that two in five Americans still plan to attend a Thanksgiving gathering with more than 10 people, and nearly a third of respondents said they will not ask guests to wear masks.
Dr. Joel Kammeyer, an infectious disease specialist and assistant professor for the University of Toledo, said families should have frank conversations about how to behave responsibly in the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving and about the risks of sharing a meal with elderly or high-risk family members.
“There’s no question that we’ll see stories about families that were together at Thanksgiving and many or most or all of the family members ended up with COVID-19,” Kammeyer said. “We all have to understand that that’s a possibility that exists for each of us.”
The easy answer, according to Dr. Tara Smith, an infectious disease epidemiologist and professor for Kent State University, is to skip Thanksgiving dinner with anyone outside your household, however unpopular that may be.
But for those who choose to attend Thanksgiving dinner anyway, Smith suggests quarantining for two weeks if possible, or otherwise limiting time outside your household in the days leading up to the holiday. Have groceries delivered and avoid meeting up with friends for now, Smith said, and if you have been exposed to the coronavirus, get tested beforehand.
During the meal itself, Smith suggests keeping as much distance as possible and keeping masks on while not eating or drinking to reduce exposure. If you can have dinner outdoors, Smith said, that’s a safer option than spending the afternoon inside. But when that isn’t possible, she suggests opening windows to maximize airflow.
The coronavirus spreads primarily through respiratory droplets and aerosols— tiny particles carrying the virus that are emitted when a person talks, coughs, yells or breathes. Those particles can linger in the air and travel further than originally thought, Gonsenhauser, said.
“What we’ve learned is that by having adequate ventilation in the room, you can exhaust a lot of those particles that are carrying the virus,” he said. “That can help you significantly to create a safer environment.”
Gonsenhauser offered four options for Thanksgiving dinner.
The safest, he said, is to have dinner with your household or “bubble,” which typically consists of immediate family or close friends who choose to socialize together while not in quarantine, and schedule a Facetime or Skype call with anyone who isn’t there.
The next safest option, Gonsenhauser said, is to have dinner with your household and meet up with grandparents or extended family in the driveway, while still keeping distance and wearing masks.
For those who want to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends and family outside their household, Gonsenhauser suggests hosting dinner outside and seating people with their households, with at least six feet between each table. While that option is safer than hosting dinner indoors, Gonsenhauser said there’s still risk because people “have a tendency to get comfortable in that environment.”
And for those who choose to have Thanksgiving dinner inside, Gonsenhauser said it still helps to seat people with their household and space tables six feet apart, using open windows or box fans to bring fresh air into the room and having plenty of hand sanitizer available.