Do not celebrate a traditional Thanksgiving this year, Victoria’s top health official told the public Thursday.
“It’s not normal right now,” said Dr. John McNeill, Victoria’s local health authority. “And trying to make it normal can be dangerous.”
Public health officials around the country are begging the public to skip the typical Thanksgiving meal, with multiple generations crammed around the table in an indoor space while eating, talking, drinking and laughing. Such a meal, with family who have traveled from out of the area to join, is a “perfect setup for spread of the virus,” McNeill said.
“I’m not going to come here and say cancel Thanksgiving, cancel Christmas, don’t be around anybody,” McNeill said. “But what we are asking is that you just think about the whole picture.”
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention held its first public briefing in months Thursday to urge the public not to travel to visit loved ones.
“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with,” according to the new guidance published by the CDC.
McNeill himself said his extended family wouldn’t gather at his house, as was typical for his family, and instead individual households would eat dinner in their own homes while convening on Zoom, as they had over Easter.
“We’re going to Zoom each other. We’re going to pray together, and we’re going to say ‘hi’ to each other, and then we’re going to have our meal,” he said. “And it will be safe.”
McNeill said there was no mandate or requirement that people bypass meeting with family members from outside of an individual household, but that such a step was recommended. For those who don’t follow those recommendations, McNeill and the CDC both encouraged mask wearing, physical distancing, and eating outside if possible.
Like the rest of the country, Victoria County is seeing an increase in COVID-19 cases, although not as many cases as the region experienced during July and August. As a country, the U.S. is experiencing unprecedented levels of spread of the disease and hospitalizations of those who are severely ill. In the last seven days, the U.S. reported more than 1 million new cases of COVID-19, which has never before happened throughout the pandemic, according to the COVID Tracking Project. Nationwide on Wednesday, there were almost 80,000 people hospitalized with COVID-19, again, more than any time since the pandemic began, according to the COVID Tracking Project’s data.
Victoria County has averaged 25 new cases per day over the last seven days, said David Gonzales, the director of the Victoria County Public Health Department. That average is four times higher than the county’s average in October and September, he said.
Local data also bears out what experts have known about the disease for months. Between 30 and 40% of people infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19, are estimated to experience few or no symptoms at all, meaning that those people might unwittingly spread the virus to others while believing they themselves are healthy. About 35% of the county’s current confirmed cases have only had one or no symptoms, Gonzales said.
The first vaccines for COVID-19 could become available for high-risk groups as early as December, Gonzales said. Vaccines are expected to be available to the broader public throughout the rest of 2021.