Thanksgiving gathering tips from one of Boston’s top infectious disease doctors

BOSTON — Thanksgiving is right around the corner, and while it will be a lot different than last year when COVID-19 rates were at one of the highest periods of the pandemic, that doesn’t mean the threat of COVID has gone away.

Dr. Paul Sax, the Clinical Director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital says even though COVID is still out there, this Thanksgiving will feel more normal. Still, he says that doesn’t mean we can totally let our guards down either.

So what will it look like?

Initially this year, the CDC’s holiday guidance was still to hold a virtual Thanksgiving or to use a window fan if they were going to have an indoor Thanksgiving. But in a cold climate like New England, is that really realistic?

Dr. Sax says if you can bear it, there is science behind it.

“I do feel like an attention to ventilation makes sense if you have a room that has doors that can be closed, keep those doors open, and if it’s tolerable use a window fan,” he says.

What about relatives flying in from out of town? Is it safe to host them? Dr. Sax says that’s ok as long as the guests are vaccinated, and if they have a negative rapid test the day of the gathering.

Most families have an adult table and a kid table for the holidays. So with kids ages five and up now eligible for the vaccine — although they likely won’t be fully vaccinated by Thanksgiving — is a kid table ok?

“Well a kid table of vaccinated kids, absolutely,” says Dr. Sax. “A kid table mixing vaccinated and unvaccinated kids. Does it make sense? I’ll leave that to you to decide,” he said.

Thanksgiving is also typically a gathering where there are generations of family members sitting at the table together. So if your family includes grandparents as well as younger children or even babies, what are the rules for being affectionate?

Dr. Sax reminds us that babies can get COVID-19. The good news, though, is they tend not to get very sick from it, he says, although the question remains if babies can end up transmitting the virus to others? Dr. Sax’s advice is to exercise judgment about who’s going to mix with a baby and tell grandparents with underlying health conditions or who are immunocompromised at your gathering to “love on the grandkids from afar.”

And remember last year when we were told to quarantine for two weeks before Thanksgiving?

Dr. Sax says it’s still not a bad idea to lay low and say “no” to invitations like playdates and birthday parties leading up to Thanksgiving if you plan on being around any relative who is immunocompromised.

He says given the shorter incubation period that we’ve seen with the Delta Variant, that quarantine period could be more like seven to ten days, rather than two weeks.

Finally, Dr. Sax recommends having people test the day before Thanksgiving and the day of with an at-home COVID test.

He recommends either the “Binaxnow,” at-home test made by Abbott labs or Quidel at-home test. He says he is in no way affiliated with the companies. They’ll cost you around $25 for a set of two. He says they’re pretty accurate and if they come back negative, you should feel more comfortable not wearing masks.

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