COVID-19 is being transmitted within all communities in the state at unprecedented and rising levels, resulting in record numbers of new infections, hospitalizations, and deaths. While the holidays bring joy and thanksgiving, we have documented transmission events that occurred at family gatherings and celebratory events. The ACHI Health Policy Board offers the following prevention strategies based upon logical application of the best available science.
The ACHI Health Policy Board strongly encourages families to forgo large family gatherings and to celebrate with household members, joining extended family by telephone, video, or other electronic means.
Keep in mind that Arkansans with the following conditions who contract COVID-19 have much higher rates of hospitalization, ICU admission, and death:
- immunocompromised (e.g. on chemotherapy, high dose steroids)
- kidney failure
- congestive heart failure
- mental illness
- coronary heart disease
In addition, pregnant women are at increased risk of hospitalization and death if infected. Individuals in nursing homes are at particular risk and should not be brought home for celebrations.
For families who do plan to bring different households together for Thanksgiving (or for other family gatherings), there are logical steps that should be taken to diminish the risk of transmission of COVID-19. The board strongly advises that the following steps be taken:
By this weekend (Saturday, Nov. 14), communicate with all family units that will congregate to discuss risk reduction and management strategies, commit to safeguard each other, and establish a plan. If agreement is not reached, consider not participating.
Starting this weekend (Saturday, Nov. 14), all anticipated attendees should modify their external exposures by eliminating unnecessary shopping, minimizing participation in gatherings and other social activities, and ceasing visits to bars, restaurants, and other places of exposure to the public.
Prior to travel and/or by Monday of Thanksgiving week (Nov. 23), seek a COVID-19 PCR molecular test to minimize the likelihood of unknowingly transmitting the virus while being asymptomatic. If you test positive, do not travel or attend.
On Thanksgiving, have a plan to reduce risk. Do these 10 things:
- Limit groups to 10 or fewer, if possible.
- Anyone with cold-like symptoms (fever, cough, headache, loss of taste) should not attend.
- Safeguard individuals with the conditions noted in paragraph 3 above.
- Gather and eat outdoors if weather permits. If gathering indoors, open windows (use a heater if necessary) and turn on vent hoods to increase ventilation.
- Do not share serving utensils. Designate one person to serve the group while wearing a mask and gloves.
- Limit the length of the event.
- Maintain distance as much as possible and avoid close personal contact.
- Wear masks when not eating/drinking.
- Sanitize/wash hands frequently.
- For those staying overnight, maximize outdoor time, maintain social distance, and wear masks throughout the visit.
Be smart, not afraid. Safeguard your loved ones and do not let Thanksgiving include COVID-19.