Infection Preventionists Gird for Thanksgiving Fallout

November 23, 2020
Frank Diamond

Kevin Kavanagh, MD: “I would be more worried about getting the family together for next Thanksgiving than this Thanksgiving. And if you’re going to get your family together this Thanksgiving, you may not have all members together next Thanksgiving, and that’s what needs to be remembered.”

Time to gird for the bird. It won’t be much a Thanksgiving holiday for infection preventionists and other healthcare professionals grappling with an alarming spike in cases of coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19). This huge surge in COVID cases—20 straight days of reported cases of over 100,000 or more—floods hospitals in the United States even before the start of the long Thanksgiving weekend, where millions of people will be traveling and gathering and thus giving SARS-CoV-2 even more opportunities to spread.

Connie Steed, MSN, RN, CIC, FAPIC, president of the Association for Professionals in Infection Control and Epidemiology (APIC), warns the public that now is not the time to let its guard down against COVID-19. “While news of a vaccine is welcome, we must continue masking and social distancing until broad distribution of the vaccine becomes a reality,” Steed said in press release last Friday. “With cases rising, and many hospitals at or nearly at capacity, we all must do what we can to prevent the spread of COVID-19. Wear a mask when you’re outside your home, stay six feet from others, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, and stay home if you feel sick.”

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) wants people to stay home for the holiday, but the public seems to be turning a deaf ear to that warning as AAA expects that more than 55 million travelers will hop planes, trains, and automobiles to visit their loved ones. That’s about 10% fewer travelers than last year, but still way too many, as far as the CDC is concerned.

The agency suggests that Thanksgiving celebrations be limited to household members only; people who’ve lived under the same roof for the last 14 days. “People who do not currently live in your housing unit, such as college students who are returning home from school for the holidays, should be considered part of different households,” states the CDC guidance. “In-person gatherings that bring together family members or friends from different households, including college students returning home, pose varying levels of risk. Organizers and attendees of larger events should consider the risk of virus spread based on event size (number of attendees and other factors) and take steps to reduce the possibility of infection, as outlined in the Considerations for Events and Gatherings.

Hospitalizations and deaths are lagging indicators, but they are surging as well. According to the Covid Tracking Project, about 83,870 patients were hospitalized yesterday, the 13th straight day the US COVID hospitalization record has been broken. And last week, the daily death count from COVID reached 2000, the first time that’s happened since May,

But again, despite that fact, according to the Transportation Security Administration, more than a million people travelled by air last Friday.

Kevin Kavanagh, MD, a member of Infection Control Today®’s Editorial Advisory Board, says that the risk just isn’t worth it. “The virus doesn’t care,” Kavanagh told ICT® in a Q&A. “People get together, it will spread. So, right now I would be more worried about getting the family together for next Thanksgiving than this Thanksgiving. And if you’re going to get your family together this Thanksgiving, you may not have all members together next Thanksgiving, and that’s what needs to be remembered.”

In an updated guidance released last Friday, the CDC says that 50% of COVID cases are spread by asymptomatic carriers.

Overall, in the United States, there have been over 1.2 million confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of yesterday and about 257,000 have died from the novel coronavirus. In the world, there have been over 58 million confirmed cases of COVID-19, and nearly 1.4 million people have died from COVID-19.