As the holidays approach, many people are wondering how to safely celebrate. The CDC has urged Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving, and offered guidance for those who still want to go somewhere.
Health officials weighed in on whether you need to quarantine before you visit family for the holidays.
"My own family, we usually have 100 relatives every year at Thanksgiving. Now, clearly, that’s not going to be happening this year. It’s going to be on Zoom for the big family, but I think there are ways that you can celebrate with your smaller family and get together safely, but it's going to take some work and some planning," said Dr. Tanya Altmann, a pediatrician and spokesperson for the American Academy of Pediatrics.
Dr. Altmann says there are a number of steps people can take to protect themselves from getting COVID-19 this holiday season. Ideally, everyone would quarantine for two weeks before and after a get-together. Some families may think about switching their kids to remote learning if they are not already doing it.
"I don’t think it's drastic. If you want to get together with elderly grandparents for Thanksgiving, I think keeping your kids home from school for a week and then testing them on day five to seven, assuming everybody is asymptomatic, can make a lot of sense. Again, I would still try to keep them a little distanced from the grandparents," said Dr. Altmann.
But what if you can't switch your kids to remote learning? Dr. Altmann says then it won't be a true quarantine, but most schools that are in-person right now are doing everything right.
"They're masking, they’re distancing, they’re sanitizing and disinfecting, they’re hand washing. So, what we’re seeing is most kids are not catching COVID-19 in the school classroom during the school day; they're catching it at after-school activities, they're catching it on the weekends when they're gathering with friends or their families or doing things that maybe they shouldn’t necessarily be doing," said Dr. Altmann.
So, how long should your quarantine last? For medical professionals, a quarantine usually refers to a person who's potentially been exposed but is not showing symptoms. It's a waiting period to help determine infection.
"I think really the best guidance is to wait that 14-day quarantine period to have some degree of confidence that you’re not going to become infected," said Dr. Beth Thielen, an Assistant Professor of Pediatrics at the University of Minnesota Medical School and an infectious disease physician. Dr. Thielen says, to be extra careful, you could also test yourself seven days into your two-week quarantine.
"A testing in between without symptoms is somewhat helpful because we also know there are a certain percentage of people who will develop asymptomatic infections and, in particular, this is probably important for children," said Dr. Thielen.
However, testing rules and access varies in each state, so it's best to reach out to your local health official or doctor to find out about availability and turnaround times for results.
"So, I think for some, where now I'm hearing people are waiting days after a test, and so if you're planning to get tested before a trip and it's going to take four to five days to turn around the test, that could be the entirety of your trip," said Dr. Thielen.
Health officials advise erring on the side of caution, especially if you're planning on visiting elderly family members.
"I think the most important thing is to be really aware of that it's not just your family. 'Oh, we don't want to catch COVID, we might get sick' but that you could spread it to others who are even more vulnerable," said Dr. Altmann.
Experts say to take the highest precautions to create the least amount of risk.