For many North Texans, Thursday's Thanksgiving feast might be the first time celebrating with loved ones since 2019.
So how can we best protect ourselves from COVID-19 during family gatherings?
The biggest takeaway in a conversation with Dallas County Health and Human Services director Dr. Philip Huang – vaccines are the best defense at the Thanksgiving dinner table.
“You’re five to eight times less likely to get an infection, 10 times less likely to be hospitalized, and 11 times less likely to die if you’re vaccinated. We’re seeing in our own numbers that 85% to 90% of hospitalizations and deaths are in unvaccinated persons. This is preventable,” he told NBC 5.
Looking at the latest numbers, Huang shared that COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations had been declining since the delta variant spike in August and September. The county even dropped the covid risk level from red to orange around Halloween.
“This is something we were concerned about and warning about the last time we were able to go from red to orange,” said Huang. “We still need to not let our guard down and be careful.”
But in the last few weeks, Huang said case numbers and hospitalizations have flattened and have started increasing again across North Texas and the country as we enter the crucial holiday season.
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"As we're going into the holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s definitely pretty precarious. We're seeing what's happening in some of the other parts of the country, like Colorado and the Northeast, where some of them are really hitting extremely high numbers,” he said. “We're also getting into the colder weather, people are indoors more and closer together. And the other thing is, people are really starting to let their guard down.”
Huang says the delta variant accounts for most cases, and that's the strain that is more easily transmissible.
“We really want people who are getting together certainly to be vaccinated. The recommendation is still that if you’re not vaccinated, you shouldn’t be traveling and shouldn’t be doing those things,” he said.
As families plan their gatherings, Huang suggests the following:
- Do a health risk assessment beforehand.
- Identify who is most at risk, such as the immune-compromised or older adults.
- Even if everyone is vaccinated, breakthrough cases are still possible.
- Make sure everyone who is attending is monitoring for COVID-19 symptoms, which in breakthrough cases can be mild and look like allergies.
- If you have concerns with unvaccinated guests, set up outdoors like at a park.
- Open windows to create more ventilation.
- Create distance in indoor spaces and create a plan for unvaccinated young children.
- Consider scaling back on the number of people attending a dinner.
- Look into requiring vaccinated guests only or ask for guests to provide a negative COVID test.
“It all depends on how we as a community respond and what we do,” said Huang. “We know these things can slow it down and they worked in the past. If we can do these common sense things, in addition to getting the vaccine, that's the most important thing."
Dallas County health officials are also sending an urgent reminder about flu season as we enter the months where flu deaths typically increase.
Huang said it's not too late to get your flu shot, which is safe to get at the same time as your COVID-19 boosters or initial shots.
“We certainly don’t want to have a bad flu season on top of COVID,” he said.