Thousands of people are getting COVID-19 tests every day, with many saying they’re taking the test to prepare for a trip across the country to gather with family or friends.
“I’m actually going home for Thanksgiving to Florida,” said Patrick Harrington, who was in line at a downtown Seattle test site.
“I’m heading home for Thanksgiving as well,” said Patrick Fogarty, who was also in line. “Minneapolis,” he said.
The surge in cases plus holiday demand have caused long lines at test sites, sometimes stretching on for blocks.
“I’m going to take a test before I go out there, before I go to my grandmother’s house. She’s almost 80,” said Logan Swanson, who was at Sea-Tac International Airport.
UW Medicine infectious disease experts say a test can help, especially when combined with at least a week of quarantine before the test.
“That’s a lower-risk situation than someone who is just not abiding by the rules. It’s still higher risk than not going at all,” said Dr. Paul Pottinger, with UW Medicine.
But he warns people who are taking comfort in a test that it’s not a guarantee.
“The test only gives us information about that moment in time,” Pottinger said.
That means you could be asymptomatic with not enough virus particles built up yet in your body for a COVID-19 test to detect it. In this scenario, by the time you arrive at your destination and see family and friends, the virus load would be high enough to start spreading.
“That’s the problem with Thanksgiving. It’s a very intimate situation. Of course people would take off their face coverings,” Pottinger said.
For those still planning a get-together with extended family — take as many precautions as possible.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and Pottinger say it can help to keep windows open while your guests are over.
“I’m not saying if people have Thanksgiving and if they open the window, that they’re all safe and good. That’s not true. But actually opening the window and increasing air flow may help reduce that risk,” he said.
Keep your masks on while socializing and space out guests, especially when it’s time to eat.
For example, consider one person on the couch, another the table, and someone at the counter.
The CDC also recommends bringing your own food, drinks, and plates; but Dr. Pottinger reminds you the virus is much more likely to be spread through the air with respiratory droplets.
“The food itself is probably not a significant risk for catching this infection,” Pottinger said.
The CDC and Pottinger both recommend moving your celebration outside.
“Bring some heaters out and let that natural air flow over the entire party,” Pottinger said.
In fact, business at tent rental companies is skyrocketing.
“Our phones have been ringing nonstop,” said Aravia McCormick of Alexander Party Rentals in Kent.
Doctors and the CDC say none of those tips can offer better protection than a virtual celebration.
“Family members I live with are going to make some food and have people pick it up no contact, then we’ll do a Zoom meeting,” said Alex Menne, who lives in Seattle.
“We’re all in this together — and I know it’s a sacrifice, but I think it’s a sacrifice worth considering,” Pottinger said.
Many families told KIRO7 their primary change this Thanksgiving was to keep the gathering smaller.
“We’re doing just immediate family — there are eight of us,” Fogarty said.
“Normally it probably would’ve been like 20 people, but this year we’re just doing our close family,” said Trina Gebhart, who was at the airport.
But Pottinger reminds you that small gatherings are a major part of the problem and the surge in cases.
“Statistically speaking, we think most transmission in Washington — as is true nationwide — it usually happens in the home,” Pottinger said. “When people come in from other parts of the country, that risk transmission is much higher,” he said.
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