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7 Things You Can Do This Thanksgiving to Stay Safe and Help Prevent a Dangerous Post-Holiday Covid-19 Spike

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Thanksgiving is on the horizon in the United States, where the average daily number of cases is above 160,000, and there are more than 11.2 million total infections in the country, according to data compiled by Johns Hopkins University and Medicine.

The Centers for Disease Control advised Americans not to travel during the holiday, in a briefing Thursday. "For Americans who decide to travel, CDC recommends doing so as safely as possible by following the same recommendations for everyday living," Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC's Covid-19 incident manager, said.

After Canadian Thanksgiving, which is celebrated on Oct. 11, public health officials saw an increase in Covid-19 cases, which they attributed to the holiday gatherings. So, how can the U.S. prevent a similar situation?

Here's what the experts say you can do to keep your family safe and prevent further community spread.

Skip the usual gathering

Even "medium-size" in-person gatherings with social distancing — like family members getting together for Thanksgiving dinner, especially if traveling is involved — are considered "higher risk" for exposure, according to the CDC.

So it's best to avoid gathering with people outside of your household. Even Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, said in early October that he would not be getting together with his adult children for Thanksgiving.

If you do choose to have a small gathering with family or others in your bubble, you still need to wear a mask, maintain distance, practice hand hygiene and regularly disinfect surfaces and items. The CDC says you should also open the windows to increase airflow if you're staying indoors, and limit the number of people allowed in meal prep areas.

Being outdoors if the weather permits can reduce the risk, but does not eliminate it, Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center tells CNBC Make It.

"Outdoors adds another layer of safety, but it's not completely safe," he says.

Don't travel

The CDC says postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.

According to the CDC, the lowest-risk travel scenario is driving with no stops to a destination, with only members of your household, staying in a house or cabin and bringing your own food and drinks. On public transportation, like a plane or a bus, you're dependent upon other people's behaviors as well as your own, so it's riskier.  

Keep in mind that different communities have different infection rates and safety regulations. "The more cases at your destination, the more likely you are to get infected during travel and spread the virus to others when you return," according to the CDC.

Get tested

It's reasonable to get a Covid-19 test before seeing people, Schaffner says, as well as after (more on that later).

While a test is an added measure that can help reduce your risk, it's important to remember that a test is a snapshot that only "tells you what your circumstance is that day," he says.

"If you get tested, then you need to make sure that you've not taking on any additional risk between the test and Thanksgiving," says Dr. Brian Castrucci, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy focused solely on state and local public health.

And even so, since it can take days to get your test results back, a negative Covid-19 test is not a green light to let down your guard completely. Plus, tests are not 100% accurate.

Set ground rules ahead of time

Communicate what your expectations are for guests ahead of time. For example, remind your family that everyone needs to wear a mask and minimize contact with others two weeks ahead of the holiday, Schaffner says.

"One of the things that you could have as a ground rule is everybody who's coming has to have their flu shot," he adds. (While the flu shot cannot prevent Covid-19, the CDC says they can reduce the risk of flu illness, hospitalization and death — and save healthcare resources for people with Covid-19.)

Deciding ahead of time will make it easier for everyone to follow appropriate behavior, so you're not having to correct or nag people in the moment, he says.

Limit your time

Thanksgiving dinner can be a day-long affair, but we know that prolonged exposure to other people increases the risk of transmission. According to the CDC, it's considered "close contact" if you spend a total of 15 minutes within six feet of an infected person over the course of a 24-hour period, starting two days before the onset of illness.

Set an end time for your get together to limit exposure, Schaffner says. Schaffner, for example, plans to see family for only an hour, then go their separate ways to eat dinner.

Quarantine on the back end

If you attend a gathering, you could potentially encounter someone who is Covid-19 positive, Castrucci says.

So "on the back end of Thanksgiving, quarantine for 14 days, which would help ensure that there's not additional community spread," he says. That means staying home, monitoring for symptoms and keeping away from others. If you can, it's wise to get tested at least two to three days (ideally five) after a potential exposure.

Avoid conflict

Holidays can be a tense time. If anyone gives you a hard time for skipping Thanksgiving, "be clear about why you're not doing it and what your values are around Covid-19," Castrucci says. Remind your family that you're making a decision for yourself and for your family's safety and health.

"We are distancing now, so that when we can gather again, there are fewer of us missing," he says.

This story has been updated to include the Nov. 19 CDC guidelines on travel.

Check out: How to tell your family you’re not coming home for Thanksgiving

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