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Doctor’s orders for a safe Thanksgiving: Don’t gather

SARANAC LAKE — Asked how locals can stay safe on Thanksgiving, one local doctor had a simple answer: Don’t gather.

“I know many people don’t want to hear it, but the very best way to minimize the risk of COVID-19 exposure at holiday gatherings is to not be there,” said Dr. Tracey Henderson, a pediatrician who works at Adirondack Health’s Tupper Lake Health Center. “The safest way for families to celebrate the holidays this year is with members of their own household. Extended family gatherings should be limited to virtual platforms or take place outdoors with masking and physical distancing.”

This advice was echoed by other doctors, health officials and health care industry leaders across the country ahead of the holiday on Thursday. How Americans choose to celebrate Thanksgiving this year could impact the trajectory of the coronavirus pandemic for the rest of the year.

“COVID infections are increasing in our region, similar to many areas around the state and nation. If we continue on this trajectory without taking additional precautions around the Thanksgiving holiday, we are at risk of a major spike in cases,” said Andrea Whitmarsh, senior public health educator at the Essex County Health Department.

Albany County Health Commissioner Dr. Elizabeth Whalen told reporters at a news briefing Tuesday that even if people receive negative test results beforehand, it doesn’t guarantee a safe Thanksgiving gathering, unless that test result is combined with a two-week quarantine with no outside exposures.

The incubation period for the coronavirus — the amount of time it takes after an exposure, before a person starts experiencing symptoms — ranges anywhere from two to 14 days, according to Whitmarsh and Henderson. People can be contagious before they even experience any symptoms.

“If symptoms do present, it’s generally five to six days after exposure, though people can actually be contagious for a few days before symptoms begin,” Henderson said. “In addition, remember that people may also have no symptoms whatsoever and can still transmit the virus to others.”

COVID-19 is often transmitted before people start experiencing symptoms.

“The (U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention) estimates that about 50% of disease transmission occurs prior to symptom onset with COVID-19,” Whitmarsh said. “So it’s not possible to avoid this virus just by staying away from sick people.

“Our advice for Thanksgiving really echoes that of the (state Department of Health) and CDC: Keep your Thanksgiving gatherings small this year — 10 or fewer people — and preferably among household members only,” Whitmarsh added. “Avoid travel and crowded stores. Instead of the concentrated pockets of infection we have been seeing, widespread transmission is likely if we don’t adhere to these recommendations — and to the guidelines that we’ve been promoting all along: mask wearing, physical distancing, and frequent hand washing.

“The flu is also beginning to circulate, so everyone 6 months and older should get a flu shot soon to ensure they are protected in time for peak cold and flu season.”

The Essex County Health Department has information on the flu on its website at www.co.essex.ny.us/Health/communicable-disease-control/flu-central.

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