(CBS Local)- While many have avoided extended family for most of 2020, doctors say the wait could last through the holidays due to COVID-19 case numbers surging across the United States.
Many are left wondering, is it safe to host a Thanksgiving feast with grandma and grandpa at the dinner table?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, in-person holiday gatherings pose a varying degree of risk for people. Dr. Mallika Marshall, a practicing physician in Boston and WBZ medical reporter says it isn't worth the risk.
"You're in an enclosed space," said Marshall. "You're going to have to take your mask off to eat and drink. You're likely going to be in close proximity to other people."
Especially for people considered high-risk -- which the CDC defines as older adults and people with underlying, chronic medical conditions -- Marshall says they should avoid gatherings altogether in 2020.
"We know the virus can linger in the air and it's spread through the air. It just doesn't seem like it's a wise idea," said Marshall.
A number of factors determine the level of risk for gatherings including community spread of COVID-19 in the city where you plan to meet family, where everyone is traveling from, the duration of the time together, the behavior of people prior to visiting, and how people behave while together.
For example, people living in high case number communities who pay little regard to health and safety guidelines preventing the spread of COVID-19 have a greater risk of exposing others at a holiday gathering.
Meanwhile, gatherings held in outdoor settings where social distancing guidelines are strictly followed and masks are worn pose a lower risk of transmission.
"The best advice I can give is, if you can try to get tested within 72 hours of getting together with other people, that would be ideal," said Marshall.
People who are considered high-risk or people who live with people considered high-risk should avoid any large gatherings at all. If you or someone you're in close contact with is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, the CDC recommends you quarantine for 14 days.
Symptoms of COVID-19 can appear two to 14 days after exposure and include fever or chills, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, fatigue, muscle or body aches, headache, new loss of taste or smell, sore throat, congestion or runny nose, nausea or vomiting, and diarrhea.
Air Travel During the Holidays
Researches at Harvard University recently released findings with optimistic results for people planning air travel during the pandemic.
According to the study, time spent inside the airplane may be safer than everyday activities like grocery shopping or eating out at a restaurant.
"Air on an airplane starts above your head and comes straight down on you to the floor. Once it hits the floor it gets filters out to the side and goes to HEPA filters. HEPA filters take 99.99% of bacteria and viruses out of the air," explains Rebecca Spicer, Senior Vice President of Communications at Airlines For America.
Spicer says U.S. carriers are taking extra steps to ensure the safety of customers during the pandemic.
"Right away they started requiring masks," said Spicer. "They have been vigorously enforcing that."
According to Spicer, airline companies are utilizing electrostatic sprayers to clean the planes before passengers board. She emphasizes the high-touch areas like seatbelts, tray tables, and overhead vents are sterile.
Doctors are optimistic about recent findings, but warn your time in the tube is only part of the trip.
"We're just talking about inside the plane, but travel involves getting to and from the airport. Some people take public transportation to get to the airport or stand in possibly long lines at security," said Marshall.
Most U.S. carriers no longer charge change fees if you need to re-book a fare.
"They want to instill confidence in would-be travelers that when you purchase that ticket you have flexibility to change your plans," says Spicer.
Even though fewer people are expected to travel this Holiday season, she recommends getting to the airport earlier. Spicer says many airports closed parking lots or garages. You may also have a difficult time finding open vendors once you're past security.
"Pack a little snack in your bag, take an empty water bottle. You can fill it up on the other side of the TSA Checkpoint," said Spicer.
Staying Healthy This Winter
The safest option for you and your family is to stay home this winter. Plan virtual gatherings to catch up with relatives.
Right now there is no approved vaccine for COVID-19. However, Dr. Marshall suggests getting your flu vaccination as early as possible.
"We're entering not only another spike in coronavirus, but we're entering flu season as well," said Marshall.
In the event you get sick, prior healthy choices can help you fight off the illness better. Dr. Marshall recommend eating well, exercising regularly, and getting plenty of sleep this winter. For people with underlying conditions, make sure your symptoms are well-managed.
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