Wednesday, October 21, 2020

Holiday Days/Daze: To Travel or Not

Environmental & Science Education, STEM, Health, Medicine

Ed Hessler

--Over the bridge and through the woods/ to grandmother's house we shall not go....--Lydia Maria Child (modified bold)

University of Minnesota epidemiologist Michael Osterholm was one of the guests on Meet the Press, October 18. He is one of the foremost among the world's experts on pandemics and what should be done.

Earlier this year Osterholm warned of a fall surge of COVID-19 this fall, one in which he now says we are going to "blow right by" previous cases and deaths  We are heading, he warns, into a "dark fall"--"The next six to 12 weeks are going to be the darkest of the entire pandemic." Dr. Osterholm emphasized that our best hope is to learn to live with the idea that this is our COVID-19 year and what this means. The discussion was a masterful update of many aspects of the U.S. pandemic and included herd immunity, vaccines and vaccination, masks and social distancing at all times.

Todd asked the inevitable question about whether we should travel (and how) to visit loved ones and family during the holidays. "If you really love your family," Dr. Osterholm responded, "don't go home...." This is to be saved for next year. The segment with Osterholm starts at about 22m 46s.

In an article for STAT on health experts advice on Thanksgiving gatherings and travel by Helen Branswell, Osterholm is the most direct  among all of them: "People should not be gathering for Thanksgiving with people outside their immediate family."

These are some of the major questions/issues to consider carefully before, well before, planning a Thanksgiving trip and to reach agreement on: group size, common agreement on precautions to take with no exceptions (all the experts agree on masks, a point Osterholm emphasized in this interview with NBS's Chuck Todd), planning one holiday at a time, and safest way to get there. 

Branswell's essay includes valuable links, including one on interpreting state targets. Branswell mentions but did not link the U. S. Public Interest Group's campaign, Home Safe for the Holidays. It is possible I missed it. Below are considerations/practices Home Safe for the Holidays be addressed before leaving home for a family gathering.

  • Quarantine for 14 days before you gather. 
  • Get tested before you go and limit your contact with others until you reach your destination. 
  • Evaluate travel distance, including how many stops, overnight stays and potential contact with non-household contacts it would take to reach your destination, and see if driving versus taking a flight is better given those factors. It’s best not to travel too far, and you should avoid coming from or going to areas with high community transmission. 
  • Limit the number of people at gatherings. There’s no magic number--more people pose more risk. The size of the gathering depends on the host's ability to safely keep attendees apart, not crowded into a confined space, and outdoors is better than indoors. 
  • Socially distance and wear masks, even if you’ve all been tested. Being tested with a negative result isn’t necessarily a free pass to mingle without preventative measures. If you’ve quarantined for 14 days already, you can merge your social bubbles and interact freely but cautiously. 
  • When eating your meal together, open your windows to increase ventilation and keep at least 6 feet apart, or keep family units together, while spacing out non-household members.
  • Minimize the number of people handling the food and washing the dishes. 
  • If you or a family member are at higher risk for severe infection, you should reconsider gathering together and instead celebrate virtually.

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