PHOENIX (3TV/CBS 5) – With Thanksgiving fast approaching and the number of COVID-19 cases on the rise in a significant way, people all over the country are making adjustments to plans for their traditional family gatherings.
Here in Arizona, we're lucky because the forecast for Thanksgiving looks fantastic, which means moving the feast outside is doable. Health experts say being outdoors rather than in a confined space – even a room with adequate ventilation – is preferable when it comes to mitigating the spread of the coronavirus. Still, according to the COVID-19 Risk Index, attending a backyard barbecue carries moderate risk. It's the same as a dinner party at somebody's home with people who are not part of your immediate households.
Addressing the spread of COVID-19 in Arizona recently, ADHS director Dr. Cara Christ has said more than once that small family gatherings are becoming an issue. People tend to get complacent around their family members and might not wear a mask as much or socially distance as well.
Arizona state Rep. Raquel Terán knows all too well what can happen. She and her husband both tested positive for COVID-19 in late October after visiting family.
"Like so many in our community, we want to be close to the ones we love," Terán said at the time. "We miss them and we want to see them. We take extensive precautions when we go out. We wear masks, we keep our distance and we wash our hands, but we let our guard down with family.
It all comes down to risky behavior, which is why ADHS tweeted that COVID-19 Risk Index and why Banner Health this week put out suggestions for safer "alternatives" for Thanksgiving celebrations.
If you want to have a family gathering, keep it small – ideally with only members of your household. Keeping in mind that the more people who gather, the greater the risk, consider a small dinner outside. If you can't be out in the open, perhaps open some doors and windows to let the fresh air in. Like we said, the weather is going to be great. And when you're not eating and drinking, be merry while wearing a mask. That goes for everyone, even the little ones who are 2 and older.
For larger gatherings or family scattered throughout the country, technology – think Zoom or FaceTime – is your friend.
Last week, the chief of disaster medicine at George Washington University Hospital told CNN that he's "terrified" about what could happen with the virus over the holidays.
"We're going to see an unprecedented surge of cases following Thanksgiving this year, and if people don't learn from Thanksgiving, we're going to see it after Christmas as well," Dr. James Phillips said.
It's a dire prediction, particularly when you consider the numbers in Arizona this week alone. As of Friday, we had added more than newly diagnosed 18,500 COVID-19 cases to our tally -- since Sunday.
As Christ has said repeatedly in one way or another for a few weeks now, Arizonans need to be vigilant and practice good habits, like wearing masks, socially distancing, washing hands often and well and staying home when sick. "Now is not the time to let our guard down," she told Arizona's Family earlier this month.
ADHS hopes that knowing what behaviors and activities are riskiest will help Arizonans plan their holidays accordingly so we do not see that "unprecedented surge." The agency's chart categorizes a variety of common activities as low, moderate-low, moderate, moderate-high, and high. ADHS also tweeted what it calls a "menu" of recommendations going by the premise that you cannot be too careful.
We’ve developed a menu of precautions to take during #Thanksgiving gatherings. Doing one, like hosting gatherings outdoors, makes your family safer from #COVID19. Doing more is even better. Visit https://t.co/VXoyx9mKkc for the full menu of recommendations. pic.twitter.com/5dqkF6RIAI— AZ Dept of Health (@AZDHS) November 20, 2020