Did Thanksgiving travel, gatherings cause a COVID-19 spike? We may know this week

Austin

AUSTIN (KXAN) — The next two weeks are going to be critical in determining possible consequences of Thanksgiving gatherings, Austin Public Health officials warn.

In a conference on Wednesday, APH’s top officials explained that it’s still unclear whether COVID-19 cases will spike post-holiday.

Thanksgiving travelers, Thanksgiving gatherers

Residents who ignored APH holiday guideline are being advised to now be more careful and, importantly, to get tested immediately.

cases in these residents will likely begin emerging soon — possibly by the end of this week or into the weekend, officials say.

“If you traveled outside of Austin and Travis County for the Thanksgiving holiday, or you remained in Austin and Travis County and you gathered with individuals that did not live with you, it is going to be important for you to go online and schedule an appointment to do a test,” said APH director Stephanie Hayden.

In addition to scheduling a free test online, residents can call the nursing hotline via 311.

“I think we’re going to find out those [post-Thanksgiving] numbers this week,” said Dr. Mark Escott, APH interim health authority.

‘If you’re positive, you’re positive’

APH says it’s received information that people are still reporting to work knowing that they’re COVID-19 positive, but think it’s alright because their symptoms are mild.

“If you’re positive, you’re positive,” explained Janet Pichette, APH chief epidemiologist. “You need to stay at home and reduce transmission risk by not exposing other individuals.”

Additionally, Pichette warns that if you’ve had a test, you need to stay at home and isolate or quarantine until you’ve gotten a negative result back.

And if you’ve been exposed to a person with COVID-19, it’s still recommended you quarantine whether or not you’ve had a negative test. “As we’ve said before, you cannot test your way out of quarantine,” Pichette added.

Vaccines

The Austin-Travis County area could see vaccines being administered the end of December, Cassandra DeLeon, interim APH assistant director said.

But both DeLeon and Hayden warned: when vaccines do finally arrive, that’s not a reason to stop practicing safety measures to stop spread until all residents are able to be vaccinated.

She explained that APH is watching several vaccine candidates — including the most notable, by Pfizer and by Moderna — and will integrate whichever one is available soonest.

Health officials are cautiously optimistic about recent COVID-19 trends in the area, but the question of possible fallout from Thanksgiving remains unanswered.

Who gets vaccinated first?

“This is a similar issue that we had with PPE,” Dr. Mark Escott, APH interim health authority. “People asking: ‘Who gets it first?’ We have a lot of people who really need to get this vaccine early — but now we’re talking about prioritizing within the priority group.”

Escott said data shows that the people at the absolute highest risk for severe illness and death are people living in nursing homes.

“I believe we really need to focus our efforts early on, get the very first vaccines to those residents and those health care workers caring for individuals in those settings,” Escott said.

Escott added that health care workers are also a huge priority, to make sure they’re available to care for others.

Christmas

Will traveling and gathering with people from outside your home safer than at Thanksgiving?

Very unlikely.

“We’ve got about three weeks until Christmas,” Escott said. “And it’s hard to imagine that things will improve significantly enough for us to have different recommendations.”

Escott explained that residents must find ways to celebrate in modified ways this year: gathering at home only with people from the household.

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