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Tips for a safer Thanksgiving celebration, under COVID

As COVID-19 cases climb in the community, the Southern Nevada Health District is recommending that Thanksgiving be celebrated only with people in your own household.

Talk about a holiday buzzkill. This means no guests at the dinner table and no trips to your mother’s house.

Being a pragmatic bunch, public health officials also are giving pointers for celebrating more safely should you choose to ignore their basic recommendation. This is because they know that people will weigh differently the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19 versus the benefit of spending the holiday with friends or extended family.

“You have to look at what your risk is and how much risk you’re willing to accept,” said epidemiologist Brian Labus, a member of Gov. Steve Sisolak’s medical advisory team.

There are aspects of both physical and mental health to consider. “Life has to be worth living,” said Labus, an assistant professor in the School of Public Health at UNLV. “That’s why you have to make those decisions about if the reward is worth the risk.”

The risk of getting together for the holiday might not be worth it for extended families who are getting by just fine for now with video chats, whereas other people may put a higher premium on seeing one another face to face.

But what is the risk? In terms of spreading the virus, it varies based in part on the behavior of individuals before the gathering, such as whether they’ve been mostly staying at home and to what extent they’re practicing social distancing. As for becoming sick as the result of a gathering, it can depend to some extent on susceptibility to the virus, with factors including age and underlying medical conditions.

COVID risk rising

However, the overall general risk in the community of contracting the virus has been rising in recent weeks, health authorities said.

“The risk is greater now that it has probably ever been in this pandemic,” said Dr. Cort Lohff, acting chief medical officer for the health district, which is launching a“Mask Up. Back Up. Wash Up.” informational campaign to encourage mask-wearing, social distancing and hand-washing.

“And the reason for that is that we’re seeing our second wave of the epidemic here in Southern Nevada, and in fact, most of the country is experiencing the second wave, as well,” he said.

“We’re seeing a dramatic increase in our case counts here. So in comparison, in mid to late September, we were seeing on average, about 250 cases reported per day, now we’re seeing in excess of 1,000 cases being reported,” he said.

“Obviously, that’s a significant increase in the case counts, which suggests that we’re seeing increased transmission within the community.”

Lohff said he’d be spending Thanksgiving with just his household.

“Yes, we all want to spend time with our extended family or travel, and obviously, we all look forward to the holidays to be able to do that,” he said. “We just have to pull through this and make the sacrifices now and look forward to being able to do this this time next year.”

Labus said he won’t be spending Thanksgiving with his mother, who has some medical issues, and that he’ll instead be delivering food to her doorstep. When he asked her about getting together for the holiday, she agreed that it was a “terrible idea.”

But he realizes that for other people, the decision may be less clear-cut.

“I don’t think you can look at this as safe versus unsafe,” he said. “It’s more safe versus less safe. You’re looking at a continuum. It’s not like there’s some magic formula to make an event perfectly safe.”

‘More safe’ gathering tips

To make a gathering “more safe,” the health district strongly encourages that the following steps be taken:

—Ensure all guests wear masks with two layers or more that cover the nose and chin, and that fit snugly against the side of the face.

—Limit the gathering to fewer than 10 people.

—Plan table arrangements so that people who live in different households are not seated together.

—Stay at least 6 feet away from people who do not live in the same household.

—Host the gathering outdoors, if the weather permits.

—Open windows if hosting an indoor gathering.

—If sharing food, have one person serve the food, and use single-use options, including plastic utensils.

—Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Provide disposable paper towels in bathrooms for guests.

—Stay home if you are sick or have had contact with someone who is sick. Remember, some people who are asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic may still be able to spread COVID-19 or flu to others.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is providing ideas for people to share time virtually and alternative activities that can be found at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays/thanksgiving.html.

Contact Mary Hynes at mhynes@reviewjournal.com or 702-383-0336. Follow @MaryHynes1 on Twitter.

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