(NEXSTAR) – Once again Americans will reunite with friends and family for Thanksgiving in the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, only this year there are two additional viruses on the minds of many. – RSV and influenza.
So if you’re feeling anxious about inadvertently inviting others to a superspreader event, remember the following precautions, experts say.
Masks, vaccines and tests
“COVID, the flu, and other bacteria and viruses have not left us, so before you plan that Thanksgiving get-together, make sure you’re immune and all of your friends and family who may be immune are as well. “, advised Neha Vyas, MD, family physician at the Cleveland Clinic.
Thanksgiving is days away, but it’s not too late, experts say.
“I realize a lot of people think it’s too late to get vaccinated before Thanksgiving because vaccines need time to be effective,” said Los Angeles County Health Officer Dr. Muntu Davis. , to the Los Angeles Times. “Although the protection intensifies over one to two weeks after vaccination, this does not mean that you will have no protection so far. You still have some protection and you will be prepared for future events.
Testing for COVID-19 shortly before the event time is another precaution the host and guests can take.
Wearing a mask is also still an effective way to reduce the transmission of droplets that carry viruses such as RSV and influenza, so if you are anxious about being around so many people, or if you want to help protect the very young or immunocompromised, you may want to put on a face covering without eating.
Setting up the party
Ventilation can be difficult in colder parts of the United States, but increasing airflow and going outside whenever possible will reduce the risk of virus transmission.
In Minnesota, for example, where the Thanksgiving high is around 34 degrees, an outdoor party may not be practical. However, a high-quality air filter and cracked windows and doors can help, experts say.
Dr. Vyas also suggested having hand sanitizer on hand and providing multiple towels in the bathroom so guests don’t have to use the same one.
As a host, another strategy to consider is to create space between place settings and prevent everyone from crowding into the same room.
Although a buffet-style setup is the norm for many large gatherings, you may want to modify it to avoid people having to touch the same serving utensils. One way is to prepare meals.
For hosts and guests alike, regular hand washing is more important than ever this year. While COVID can be widely transmitted through the air, RSV, for example, can live for many hours on hard surfaces, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Finally, Vyas reminds hosts not to overlook proper cooking of food as well – wash produce thoroughly, heat dishes to the correct temperature and ensure leftovers are properly stored.
Additional concern this year
As Americans head into the holiday season, a rapidly escalating flu season is straining hospitals already overwhelmed with patients with other respiratory infections.
More than half of the states have high or very high flu levels, unusually high for this start of the season, the government reported Friday. These 27 states are found primarily in the south and southwest, but include a growing number in the northeast, midwest, and west.
It comes as children’s hospitals are already dealing with a surge in illnesses from RSV, or respiratory syncytial virus, a common cause of cold-like symptoms that can be serious for infants and the elderly. And COVID-19 still contributes to more than 3,000 hospitalizations every day, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
In Atlanta, Dr. Mark Griffiths describes the mix as a “viral jambalaya.” He said children’s hospitals in his area had at least 30% more patients than usual for this time of year, with many patients forced to wait in emergency rooms for beds to fill up. open.
“I tell parents that COVID was the ultimate bully. It bullied every other virus for two years,” said Griffiths, emergency medical director at a downtown Atlanta hospital for children’s health care.
With COVID-19 rates dropping, “they’re coming back strong,” he said.
Winter flu season usually doesn’t start until December or January. Flu hospitalization rates haven’t been this high since the 2009 swine flu pandemic, CDC officials say. The highest rates are for people 65 and older and children under 5, the agency said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.
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