Coronavirus

Health Experts Urge Public Not To Travel For The Holidays. But If You Do, Take Extra Care

For those traveling for the holidays against public health experts’ recommendations, there are ways to stay as safe as possible, including staying outdoors for as much time as you can while congregating with other people.

A computer image created by Nexu Science Communication, together with Trinity College in Dublin, shows a model structurally representative of a betacoronavirus which is the type of virus linked to COVID-19.

Nothing about college life is ordinary this year. But 19-year-old Kaivon Dixon wanted some semblance of normalcy. That's why he made plans to come back to Houston and celebrate Thanksgiving with his family, from the University of the Incarnate Word in San Antonio, alongside his older brother.

Despite the coronavirus pandemic, the brothers decided Thanksgiving was an important opportunity to see family, who’ve remained distant throughout the majority of this year.

"My mom wants to see all of her children for Thanksgiving, she hasn't seen us in such a long time," Dixon said, adding: “We would just eat outside to help that risk go down. And there won't be a lot of hugging interactions.”

The Dixons are just one family that's meeting for the holidays despite warnings from local officials, who are urging the public not to gather indoors with people who don't live in the same house.

But for those who are traveling, health experts have outlined other ways to stay as safe as possible, including staying outdoors for as much time as you can if congregating with other people.

"I think we can celebrate, and we can be safe at the same time if we plan," said Dr. James McDeavitt, dean of clinical affairs at Baylor College of Medicine.

Most medical professionals have cautioned the public against traveling, arguing it’s safest to stay home than to risk exposure to others including close friends and family. But health experts like McDeavitt say even if you do choose to celebrate outdoors this year, mask wearing is essential, and more importantly, you should take turns going inside to get more food on your Thanksgiving plate.

Over time, health experts have concluded that the virus is transmitted easier inside, compared to outside.

"Just like it's not safe to walk into a crowded bar full of people, it's not safe to walk into a crowded kitchen full of people," McDeavitt said.

Even those who have been recently tested negative aren’t out of the woods, said Dr. David Persse, Houston’s local health authority.

Antigen tests, commonly referred to as rapid tests, get quicker results than a PCR test, which happen to be more accurate. But PCR tests take a couple of days to get results at the free city and county testing sites.

Those who get a quick test before heading home are taking a risk, Persse said.

"I would warn you that the positive results on those are reliable,” Persse said at a press conference Monday. “There are very few false positives. But unfortunately, in people who don't have any symptoms, there's a fairly respectable false negative rate.”

Extra precautions are necessary this year, doctor’s say, as coronavirus cases and hospitalizations continue to grow in Greater Houston. On Tuesday, Harris County hospitals collectively reported more than 20% of ICU beds in county hospitals are currently being taken up by COVID-19 patients. On Saturday, there were 198 coronavirus patients in need of intensive care. Tuesday, that number jumped to 330 in county hospitals.

"I am very concerned, that the next six-to-12 weeks are going to be the darkest weeks in modern American medical history," said Dr. Joseph Varon, United Memorial Medical Center.

Varon has worked more 250 days straight, and said over the last few weeks, the number of people seeking critical care has increased dramatically. Texas Medical Center member hospitals have indicated they are approaching surge capacity, with 92% of their ICU beds currently in use.

"The problem is, when it gets us, all of us at the same time, that's when we overwhelm the health care system, and we get in trouble," Varon said.

That's his concern ahead of with Thanksgiving: Too many people gathering with "at risk" family members, who don't know they have the virus.

And with a vaccine right around the corner, he doesn't think it's too much to ask to celebrate virtually this year.

“I've been very vocal about telling people don't have Thanksgiving dinner with the whole family and friends this year,” Varon said. “Avoid it this year. Avoid it like the plague. And you know what? It is the plague, the plague is real."

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