MONTGOMERY COUNTY, Va. (WDBJ) - While COVID-19 cases are surging across the country, the rise has also been noted in the New River Valley.
“Specifically in older adult demographics,” Jason Deese, an epidemiologist at the New River Health District, said. He added local nursing homes have had several outbreaks.
“That’s really troubling because those are the most vulnerable people and we’re trying to avoid that as much as we can.”
The rise in cases comes just before the holidays, when get-togethers with family and friends are a big part of the festivities. However, Thanksgiving is still a week away, so now is the time to solidify those safe celebration plans to slow the spread of COVID-19.
The mingling of various circles has health officials concerned the surge could spike again, which is similar to the trend in flu cases in years past.
“Typically what we see after Thanksgiving during flu season is that we generally do recognize a bump in flu cases and I don’t expect it to be a whole lot different with COVID,” Deese said.
However, there are a few modifications you can do on Thanksgiving to minimize the risk: “As a general recommendation we say keep your celebrations small. If the weather is good, look to do it outside, where the transmission risk is significantly lower,” Deese said.
If you’re going to be spending Thanksgiving with people outside your immediate circle, the VDH advises quarantining for the next week to lower the risk of your family experiencing an unintentional outbreak.
The organization has also broken down traditional holiday activities into low, moderate and high risk categories.
Under low-risk, activities include:
1. Having a small dinner with family or people who live together;
2. Preparing meals and delivering to folks considered at higher risk without contact with each other;
3. Having a virtual dinner with friends and family;
4. Shopping online rather than in-person;
5. Watching sports events, parades and movies at home.
Moderate-risk activities include:
1. Having a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community;
2. Attending small outdoor sports events within the community.
“I would hope that people do those risk assessments, distance when appropriate and limit contact with people who aren’t already in their bubble or who haven’t taken pre-precautions before Thanksgiving,” Deese said.
The department’s high-risk activities include:
1. Going shopping in crowded stores before, on or after Thanksgiving;
2. Participating or being a spectator at a crowded race or sporting events;
3. Using excessive alcohol and/or drugs which cloud judgment and increase risky behaviors;
4. Attending large indoor gatherings with people who do not live together.
“If you’re traveling maybe look at the incidents in the places you’re going and be especially careful about going to public places and crowds and stuff,” Deese said.
He explained that these COVID-19 restrictions don’t have to be the Grinch who stole your Christmas and the VDH won’t be the Thanksgiving-gathering police.
“Thanksgiving is not canceled. Christmas is not canceled,” Deese said. “We want you to have as normal of a Thanksgiving and Christmas as your family risk assessment allows.”
So to answer one of the questions on many people’s minds as we plan for the holidays, should we even be celebrating this year? Deese said yes.
“I say we absolutely should celebrate. These are great traditions for our families, for our country. And I think we need cause to celebrate in some way, shape or form.”
Which leads to the second question, how should we celebrate safely this year?
“Use common sense,” Deese said.