Americans will soon come together for Thanksgiving, celebrating the holiday in semi-normal fashion for the first time in more than two years.
However, this comes at a time when respiratory viruses are increasing in the United States. According to data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, cases of respiratory syncytial virus, or RSV, rose from 14,824 in the week ending October 29 to 16,512 in the week ending November 5.
Similarly, the CDC estimates that flu cases increased by 1.6 million cases last week, now totaling more than 4.4 million this season.
Additionally, although COVID-19 infections have plateaued in recent months, CDC data shows that transmission rates from previous years increased toward the end of November.
As families get together, they may wonder if they should make sure they test negative beforehand, mask up when they’re with loved ones, invite unvaccinated family members — or even gather at all?
ABC News spoke to public health experts who offered advice on how to have the holiday celebration as safe as possible.
“We want to protect you this holiday season, if it’s RSV, if it’s the flu, if it’s COVID,” said Dr. Rebecca Weintraub, physician and assistant professor in the Department of Global Health and of social medicine from Harvard Medical School, told ABC News. “All of the routine viruses are showing their muscles this season. They are ready and prepared, and we need to be equally prepared so that we can gather as much as possible in person with our loved ones.”
Make sure you are up to date with your vaccinations
Experts recommend before congregating to be up to date on COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots.
For Americans ages 5 and older, they can receive the bivalent booster, which protects against BA.4 and BA.5, subvariants of the original omicron variant. For children under 5, only the primary vaccination is available.
For the flu, the CDC recommends anyone over 6 months old get the flu shot. If a child is 8 years of age or younger and has never had a better dose of flu vaccine, they should consider getting two doses.
“I think a lot of people are going to see their parents,” Dr. Perry Halkitis, dean of the Rutgers School of Public Health, told ABC News. “And people my age have older parents. Older people are more likely to succumb to the ravages of COVID-19. So being boosted as an approach to protecting your parents seems like a pretty good idea to me.”
Weintraub suggested that if someone gathers with unvaccinated people to spend time outdoors, reducing the risk of transmission.
“If you are concerned about being near people who have not completed their vaccination program or who have chosen not to be vaccinated or who cannot be vaccinated, we recommend that you gather outside, d ‘bringing a table outside to get an early dessert, for example, running a family game away playing soccer outside,’ she said.
Consider doing a quick test before gathering
Before attending a Thanksgiving gathering, experts recommend Americans consider taking a quick test.
Home rapid tests are also called antigen tests. They look for coronavirus antigens or proteins, which are different from polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that look for genetic material from the virus.
“Just make sure that if you’re going to test, test as close to the event as possible,” Dr. Anne Rimoin, a professor of epidemiology at the Fielding School of Public Health at the University of California in California, told ABC News. Los Angeles. “This will be helpful in reducing the spread of this virus.”
Weintraub also recommended checking expiration dates, as the U.S. Food and Drug Administration has extended expiration dates for several brands of home tests.
Do not attend dinner if you feel sick
Experts recommend staying home if you have symptoms such as cough, sore throat, sneezing, runny nose or fever.
Indeed, COVID, influenza and RSV all spread primarily in the same way – by coming into contact with respiratory droplets from the nose and throat of infected people that are expelled when they cough or sneeze.
“It’s better not to give someone an infection on a vacation that could be really bad for them, even if it’s not bad for you,” Rimoin said.
Halkitis said he must have taken this advice three weeks ago when he felt congested. At first he thought he was just a little under the weather.
“At some point a synapse fired in my brain and said, maybe you should test yourself and, to my surprise, it was positive for COVID-19,” he said. . “I stayed home for the next week. I didn’t go to work or anything, not because I felt horrible. I could have worked perfectly fine, but I took responsibility for not infect people.”
Halkitis continued: “So if people are feeling sick, even mildly sick, even if they test positive and have no symptoms, they should stay home.”
Wear a mask indoors
Although the public’s appetite for mask-wearing is low, experts recommend wearing masks in crowded indoor spaces before attending the event.
People may also consider wearing a mask while on vacation if they are near someone at high risk.
“Masks are great tools,” Rimoin said. “Masks will be able to prevent the spread of respiratory pathogens if worn correctly.”
She continued. “I think it’s important for people to get back to basics about how we protect ourselves using some basic public health measures. They work for COVID-19, they work for RSV, and they work for the flu, and really any respiratory virus.”
Ventilation and hand washing
Experts recommend making sure the day of the event the room is properly ventilated and guests practice good hand washing, thoroughly with soap and water.
Ventilation can include opening doors and windows, if it’s not too cold, or buying air filters.
“Open the windows, open the doors, if you’re in a hot place,” Rimoin said. “And if you’re not, like a lot of people aren’t right now, there’s a lot you can do to improve ventilation. You can get HEPA filters.”
According to the Environmental Protection Agency, high-efficiency particulate air filters can remove at least 99.97% of airborne particles.
Halkitis also suggested having hand sanitizer readily available, explaining, “I would have it so all the reminders would be there for people to actually engage in those health behaviors while they’re home with each other. others.”
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