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CDC guidelines urge Americans to stay home, but for those who travel common sense prevails

To gather or not to gather?

That’s the question as Thanksgiving nears and even experts share confusing guidance about gathering safely and slowing the spread of COVID-19.

“If you read the CDC guidelines (issued Thursday), they are urging against travel,” said Rick Smith, CEO of Troy Regional Medical Center. “Then in the next sentence, they’re listing guidelines for those who opt for travel …

“It can be confusing.”

The Centers for Disease Control on Thursday urged Americans to reconsider travel and large gatherings for the Thanksgiving holiday, typically one of the busiest travel times of the year.

“As we’re seeing exponential growth in cases, and the opportunity to translocate disease or infection from one part of the country to another, leads to our recommendation to avoid travel at this time,” Henry Walke, COVID-19 incident manager at the CDC, said in a call via CNN.

“We’re very concerned about people who are coming together sort of outside their household bubble” Walke added.

The CDC said Thanksgiving should be spent only with people living in a household, with “household” clarified to mean those who have been living in the same home for at least 14 days before the gathering. That would exclude college students who have been away at school or military members who have been away on duty.

Smith said the caution stems from concern about spiking COVID-19 infections.

COVID-19 cases have been surging across the U.S. According to the CDC, the average number of daily cases in the last 7 days increased 43% compared to the previous 7 days, with 94% of the U.S. seeing jump in cases.

“All the info we’re getting from the Alabama Hospital Association and the Alabama Department of Public Health shows that hospitalizations are continuing to rise,” Smith said. “They’re higher now then they have been in the last four months.”

While TRMC has seen a recent uptick in patient census, that increase is not a direct result of COVID-19. “Our COVID census sort of waxes and wanes,” Smith said. “We are seeing an increase in census, and that’s coming from any number of pulmonary conditions.”

But experts worry that as millions of Americans gather together for the holiday, the virus will spread rapidly. “Canada celebrated their Thanksgiving on Oct. 12, and they’re going through a huge uptick,” Smith said. “And while we have a huge surge going on right now, it’s probably based on something that happened 10, 12 or 14 days ago …

“The question you ask is ‘what does two weeks after Thanksgiving look like?’”

And Smith said while he understands the caution in gathering, he also sees the emotional and mental benefits of being able to connect with friends and family, particularly in what has been a difficult year.

“When people ask me, I suggest to them that they celebrate outside,” Smith said, explaining that being outside allows more room for social distancing and decrease the interaction and risk of spread. “Just be mindful of who is there.”

Elderly individuals or those considered at high risk also need to weigh the risks of attending family or large gatherings,

In its guidelines released Thursday, the CDC issued a series of questions for anyone considering travel for the holiday and some additional guidelines:

• Are you, someone in your household, or someone you will be visiting at increased risk for getting very sick from COVID-19?

• Are cases high or increasing in your community or your destination? Check CDC’s COVID Data Tracker for the latest number of cases.

• Are hospitals in your community or your destination overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19? To find out, check state and local public health department websites.

• Does your home or destination have requirements or restrictions for travelers? Check state and local requirements before you travel.

• During the 14 days before your travel, have you or those you are visiting had close contact with people they don’t live with?

• Do your plans include traveling by bus, train, or air which might make staying 6 feet apart difficult?

• Are you traveling with people who don’t live with you?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you should consider making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying your travel.

It’s important to talk with the people you live with and your family and friends about the risks of traveling for Thanksgiving.

If you do travel

• Check travel restrictions before you go.

• Get your flu shot before you travel.

• Always wear a mask in public settings, when using public transportation, and when around people who you don’t live with.

• Stay at least 6 feet apart from anyone who does not live with you.

• Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.

• Avoid touching your mask, eyes, nose, and mouth.

• Bring extra supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer.

• Know when to delay your travel.

Once in family gatherings, wear a mask and maintain 6 feet of social distance whenever possible, the CDC said.