PHILADELPHIA - Pennsylvania's first case of coronavirus was announced in early March, also when the World Health Organization declared the rapidly spreading virus a pandemic. By Thanksgiving, we'll have lived with this for more than eight months. We're tired. We want normalcy to return. We want to be together. And yet, COVID-19 is still here.
So what does that mean for planning a holiday gathering, especially as cooler weather steers us indoors?
"Obviously the safest thing to do is to set up a virtual dinner," says Dr. Eric Sachinwalla, medical director of Infection Prevention and Control at Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia. "It's an option, but I'm sure there are families who don't find that very fun."
As with any in-person gathering right now, the decision to host or attend one is personal. With loved ones involved, especially older relatives, making that decision can feel unbearably hard. We asked experts to share advice on how to approach the upcoming holiday season, along with strategies you can take to decrease risk.
Self-quarantining is ideal. But it's rarely realistic.
"In theory, that'd be great, but does everyone in the family have the ability to quarantine for two weeks? And how confident are you that someone won't break the quarantine contract?" says Sachinwalla. "All it takes is one person to mess it up."
If everyone is able to stay home for 14 days, and you can trust them to do so, experts agree it's the safest approach. How you define the "quarantine" is up to everyone involved, who will need to agree on ground rules. For example, you may decide masked visits to the grocery store are OK but socially distanced picnics are not.
But for most, weeks-long quarantining isn't practical, which means considering other strategies. Start by doing an honest risk assessment with everyone who plans to gather. What do their social circles look like? Are their kids going to school? Is anyone high-risk? Is travel involved? How large is the group? You'll need to weigh everyone's tolerance for risk, too.
Once you shape a situation that feels comfortable for everyone, think about how to make it safer. Even if you're going to an in-person job or can't quarantine, you can minimize unnecessary exposure for two weeks.
"Avoid gyms or going out to eat or really anywhere where you're inside a building for an extended period of time," says Thersa Sweet, an associate professor of epidemiology and biostatistics at Drexel University.