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Gathering for Thanksgiving may not be worth 'playing Russian roulette with our families'

UC infectious disease doctor warns asymptomatic family members may spread COVID-19
Posted at 5:15 PM, Nov 04, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-04 19:57:53-05

CINCINNATI — An infectious disease doctor at the University of Cincinnati likens attending a big Thanksgiving gathering with family to playing a deadly game of chance.

“I think (holidays) are a very dangerous time for us in 2020 where we could see a lot more COVID spreading within families,” said Dr. Carl Fichtenbaum, professor of infectious diseases at UC and UC Health. “I don’t think it’s worthwhile playing Russian roulette with our families.”

Fichtenbaum said at least 50% of people with COVID-19 are asymptomatic, meaning there’s a likely chance that a person could spread the disease to other family members in a close-contact situation. He also said 80 to 90% percent of the population is still at risk for catching the coronavirus.

“Which means that a family member could have no symptoms and could be shedding virus at a family event,” Fichtenbaum said.

Experts expect cases to rise after Thanksgiving and Christmas gatherings, which Fichtenbaum said are the type of close events likely to cause the spread of COVID-19.

“I think that we can expect to see increases in the number of people who are symptomatic and reporting COVID-19 disease,” Fichtenbaum said. “It’s not that we’re having people go to sporting events or entertainment events. Those aren’t happening. It’s really the close contact we’re seeing.”

Although it can be disappointing to think of sharing turkey and dressing over Zoom and not side-by-side at the dinner table, experts said that is the safest alternative. And there are other ways to celebrate the holidays.

Hamilton County Commissioner Denise Driehaus spoke during her weekly briefing about her Thanksgiving Day dinner plans, which she thinks will take place in her mom’s garage with the door open.

“My mom is in her 80s, and we want to keep her safe and we will be masking. We have to be." Driehaus said. “But we’re not going in her house.”

Fichtenbaum said other alternatives to consider are meeting virtually or quarantining for 14 days and getting a COVID-19 test before seeing family in-person.