Please, I Am Begging You: Just Stay Home This Thanksgiving

Full disclosure: This piece was my husband’s idea. The title of it, the idea of it, the slightly pleading, more-than-slightly angry tone of it—all him! But he’s too busy at his hospital attempting to help children (both COVID patients and chronically ill and now subsequently very sick babies who had to postpone treatments for months due to hospital COVID mandates) get healthy through a pandemic with no end in sight.
…So I’m going to write what he really wanted to: Your decision to travel and gather for Thanksgiving directly impacts others’ lives. There is a lag in reported hospitalizations after gatherings, eating indoors in large groups is just about the highest risk activity one can partake in these days, and the former plus the latter will only accelerate the inevitable spread of this horrific virus and make the “dark winter months” ahead you continue to hear about that much darker. More succinctly? A Zoom Thanksgiving, as not-as-good-as-the-real-thing as it is, is much, much better than an ICU Christmas.
I understand the unique disappointment that is not being with your family for the holidays after a trying few months—so does he. He is the chief pediatric fellow at Mt. Sinai in New York City and has not not been on call or required to be readily accessible for Thanksgiving since he began his training seven years ago. After 2019’s Thanksgiving celebration, we’d talked about having 2020’s be the first one in which he’d actually see his family in about a decade. That’s obviously not happening! Instead, we have plans to stay home and make far too much food and be thrilled we’re together and be even more devastated about what’s to come.

At the time of this writing, the COVID Tracking Project notes the United States is on its fourteenth consecutive day of increased hospitalizations in relation to the virus (on November 23, there were a reported near 86,000 hospitalizations nationwide). The TSA reported that on Friday and Saturday, more than 2 million people were screened and traveled, which is significantly more than any other days since March.
Michael Dolinger, MD, MBA, has been working with the CDC in addition to being on the frontline of the pandemic since March and has been working with hospitals across the country on preparedness for future pandemics (again, full disclosure: This is my husband. We’re a very interesting couple, I know!). He is alarmed by these numbers, and breaks down the trajectory of COVID from contagion to ICU to death as proof of how Thanksgiving, if not spent at home with your immediate household, will go.
“The highest period of infectivity is five-to-eight days prior to symptom onset (if symptoms even occur); that’s when you are most contagious,” he explains. Current tests can typically only detect a very high viral load, “so all of these people [who are using a negative COVID test as justification] to go fly around the country is going to be a complete disaster—it just means they could be highly contagious and spread the virus and we wont see the effects in hospitalizations for three-to-four weeks and then deaths in five-to-six weeks…just in time for Christmas in the ICU.”
All of this is “particularly worrisome,” Anish Mehta, MD, MPP and Director of Clinical Affairs at EdenHealth notes, especially “because hospitals are filling up again around the country, and many are already at capacity with COVID-19 patients. When the healthcare system is overloaded and hospitals don’t have capacity, this puts everyone at risk, not just people with COVID-19.”
And lest you still feel confident that you’ve done it, you’ve managed to make it to Thanksgiving and are determined to spend it as normally as possible, Mehta would remind you that “many of the things that make Thanksgiving so much fun with a big family increase the risk of spreading COVID-19. This means sharing food and drinks, hugging, laughing or singing loudly, being around people without a mask to eat or drink. All of those are high-risk activities, especially if you are doing it indoors.”
Many of you know all of this. Many of you care! Many of you don’t! I’m most concerned about the many of you who think you are doing all you can to help get through this year as painlessly as possible…as you continue to pack for your flights that leave in a few hours. It’s…not too late to change your plans. To make so, so much food and call your cousins while you do it, lamenting about the absolute tragedy that is 2020. Many of you can do this! Many of you won’t.
Many of you will email me to tell me I am angry, that my husband is angry, that Dr. Mehta is angry, that we should go about our business and leave other people to go about theirs. Full fucking disclosure: We are angry (at least Michael and I are—I’m going to go ahead and assume Dr. Mehta is too). We are going about our business. We are doing it safely and want you to too.
You can gauge your risk of contracting COVID-19 through gathering here.
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