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In a rare press conference Thursday, experts from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel to Thanksgiving or meet with people outside of their “households” – defined as just the people who are in the 14 days before a actively living together gathering.
The blatant message from the leading health department may not seem surprising given the country's poor state. The spread of the pandemic coronavirus SARS-CoV-2 is out of control and at a record level. The United States reported more than 1 million new cases of COVID-19 in the past seven days alone. Hospital stays are on the rise and healthcare facilities in several states are already overwhelmed. Deaths are also increasing. And there is no end in sight. The situation is only likely to get worse as the winter weather and the holidays drive people indoors and together.
The CDC's press conference, however, was awe-inspiring journalists who watched such briefings fade as the pandemic progressed. Numerous investigative reports have detailed how the Trump administration retired, censored, and muted CDC scientists and officials during the global crisis.
At today's briefing – the first in nearly a month – several reporters asked bluntly why the CDC is holding a press conference now that things were grim and had only been getting worse for some time. The questions appeared to be aimed at clarifying whether the Trump administration had eased its hold on the agency and / or whether CDC scientists were trying to break free of restrictions and restore the agency's once-golden reputation. Of course, CDC officials continued to focus on the risk of gathering for Thanksgiving, especially given the nightmarish disease transmission – although they added that they "would like these briefings to be regular".
"I think," Why now? "Is, um, that's – we're alarmed," said Dr. Henry Walke, CDC's COVID-19 Incident Manager, during the briefing. "With the exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations and deaths, we want to get out as much as we can and get our communications messages across about the risk involved."
Walke noted that the agency's new guidelines against Thanksgiving travel are not a requirement but rather a "strong recommendation." The agency urged people to rethink their plans and consider what it is about: people who accidentally spread the virus, possibly to vulnerable relatives who may be hospitalized or even die, and / or the virus to family members and Pass it on to friends who could then wear it. It goes back to their homes and communities, where it could infect vulnerable people who, in turn, could be hospitalized or even die.
The agency posted a detailed list of questions on its website to help assess the risk of a particular Thanksgiving gathering. The agency asked people to answer questions for themselves such as: Are cases high in your community or in the community you visit? Are you someone you live with or someone you want to visit at a higher risk of getting sick – like older adults like grandparents or people with an underlying health condition, including obesity or diabetes? Are you planning to travel by bus, train or plane that might make it difficult to stay three feet apart?
"If the answer to any of these questions is 'yes', then consider other plans, such as hosting a virtual meeting or delaying your trip," advises the CDC.
"We are very concerned about people who come together outside of their budget bubble," added Walke. This includes the growing together of large families in one house and people standing in line at airports.
Protect your bladder
In addition to providing Thanksgiving-specific travel warnings and recommendations, the agency has also advised what this means by “Household”.
Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz, head of the CDC's Task Force on Intervention and Critical Population, said the term had raised many questions. As such, she stated, "If people have not actively lived with you in the 14 days prior to your celebration, they are not considered members of your household."
For example, active military or college students returning home from school are not considered part of the household. While the CDC continued to advise people to think carefully about bringing non-household members together, the agency provided tips and recommendations for those holding risky gatherings. For returning students, the agency recommends treating them as "overnight guests" and taking additional precautions. This includes wearing masks indoors, staying two meters away, avoiding singing and shouting, improving ventilation by opening windows and / or allowing the central air to circulate continuously, as well as being outdoors together. Dr. Sauber-Schatz also recommended encouraging guests to use their own bathroom.
The agency also provided details on how to protect non-household members during meals and at short-term parties, e.g. For example, restricting people from entering the kitchen, using single servings and condiments when possible, assigning food servers and touchless trash cans.