HELENA — With the backdrop of a sharp increase in local COVID-19 cases in the county, Lewis and Clark Public Health advises families to avoid large gatherings this Thanksgiving and instead focus on smaller get-togethers that emphasize physical distancing, limit the time spent together, and minimize the possibility of COVID-19 infection.
After eight months of the pandemic, no doubt many families are looking forward to the holidays and spending time with loved ones both close and far away.
Unfortunately, COVID-19 thrives in the exact conditions the holidays bring – being indoors and around a lot of people. However, with a little preparation, creativity and care, families can celebrate safely this year.
In addition to wearing a mask, physical distancing and washing hands, there are several ways to reduce the transmission of COVID-19, while still enjoying the traditions of the holiday.
Following guidance from the CDC, Lewis and Clark Public Health advises celebrating the holiday virtually or only with members of your household.
- Have a virtual Thanksgiving meal with your family and friends who don’t live with you.
- Prepare traditional dishes and deliver them to others in a way that does not involve meeting them (for example, leave the food on the porch). People who decide to host a Thanksgiving gathering should plan to keep the get together small, short, safe, and local.
- Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live nearby.
- Set a strict limit on the number of guests.
- Use contactless pickup for groceries to minimize interaction with those you don’t know.
- Set expectations for your guests – explain how they can help celebrate safely.
- Make a plan (and stick to it!) to clean and disinfect high touch areas regularly throughout the gathering.
- If weather is a factor and you must eat indoors, open windows to increase ventilation.
- Limit the number of people in food preparation areas.
- Avoid serving food in a buffet or potluck setting to minimize crowding.
- Designate one attendee to serve individual plates of food. Make sure this person wears a mask and washes their hands.
- Keep the get together shorter than usual and make room for physical distancing. Being within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more over a 24-hour period greatly increases the risk of becoming sick.
- Limit the number of households attending, or do not mix households at all.
- Keep your attendees local to reduce the risk of transmission associated with traveling.
Those attending a gathering should follow simple steps to ensure a safer environment.
- First, avoid going in and out of the area where food is being prepared or handled.
- When eating or drinking, safely store masks in separate, sealable plastic bags to avoid contamination.
- If possible, in order to provide a small amount of peace of mind, attendees should consider getting a COVID-19 test at least 72 hours prior to attending any holiday gathering.
- Locally, PureView offers free drive-up testing without referral from a medical provider.
Lewis and Clark County Health Officer Drenda Niemann realizes families want to celebrate Thanksgiving together, especially after the tough year the community has faced so far. “We’re not telling families to cancel Thanksgiving,” Niemann said, “we only ask that people parse down their guest lists, or preferably only celebrate with their immediate family. If you choose to celebrate with others, please find creative ways to ensure everyone will come away from gathering without the fear of coming down with COVID-19.”
Individuals diagnosed with COVID-19 and still have symptoms, anyone who has symptoms of COVID-19 or feels unwell, and those who may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 14 days prior to a gathering, should not attend. Older adults and those with certain underlying medical conditions should think twice about attending any in-person gathering. Pregnant women might also be at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
For more information on celebrating Thanksgiving visit the CDC’s Holiday Recommendations at https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays/thanksgiving.html.
COVID-19 symptoms may appear 2-14 days after exposure to the virus and include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea, vomiting, or diarrhea. Also, be aware of emergency warning signs of severe COVID-19 disease.
Individuals showing any of the following signs or symptoms should seek emergency medical care immediately: trouble breathing, persistent pressure or pain in the chest, new confusion, inability to wake or stay awake, or bluish lips or face coloring.
For the most current available data on local COVID-19 cases, view the Local COVID-19 Decision Making Dashboard at www.lccountymt.gov/health/covid-19/local-covid-19-decision-making-dashboard.html.
Preventing and controlling local COVID-19 is dependent on personal responsibility and individual choices that residents of our county can make to protect our community.
Lewis and Clark Public Health continues to urge people to do the right thing to protect our community, practice what has been learned over the last few months, such as physical distancing, wearing a face covering, avoiding large gatherings, washing hands, and sanitizing surfaces to protect ourselves and others.
If you have questions, please call Lewis and Clark Public Health at 457-8900.