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Making Thanksgiving plans? Health officials say to consider the risks for coronavirus

"Of all the holidays, of all the events of an entire year, Thanksgiving is what gives me the most pause," said Dr. Peter Beilenson.

SACRAMENTO, Calif. — Thanksgiving. It's a time to gather, give thanks, and share a meal with loved ones. But amid a pandemic, health officials say people should consider what else could be passed around the Thanksgiving table: coronavirus.

This Thanksgiving, health officials are urging families to resist even small gatherings in the name of public health, but for those who still choose to get together, there are ways to lower the risks. 

"Of all the holidays, of all the events of an entire year, Thanksgiving is what gives me the most pause," Dr. Peter Beilenson, Director of Sacramento County Department of Health Services, said.

Beilenson said the county's increase in cases that landed it back to the most restrictive purple tier can be pinpointed to a handful of scenarios.

"We know exactly what led up to the increase, they are nursing homes, long-term care facilities, Halloween gatherings, and gatherings in people's houses. It's that simple," Beilenson said.

With pandemic fatigue setting in, he urges families to stay vigilant this holiday season.

"The number one recommendation is [to celebrate with] just their immediate family for this one Thanksgiving," Beilenson said. "[It will] allow you to live for many, many more Thanksgivings, as a vaccine is on the horizon"

For those who may choose to get together with others outside of their immediate households, Beilenson said a safer plan is to have Thanksgiving outdoors.

"By having them outdoors, you can actually make a difference," Beilenson said.

Get creative. For example, have dinner earlier in the day when it's warmer outside. Set up separate tables for different households.

Without ventilation, aerosols indoors greatly increase the spread of contagion. Still, health officials say, this year, it is safest to keep extended family affairs virtual.

"Even though it's older folks ending up in the hospital, it's our younger adults that are driving our case rates," Dr. Maggie Park, San Joaquin County Public Health Officer, said.

Park said people between the ages 18 to 39 diagnosed with coronavirus are often asymptomatic. Many of them are going on with social activities like normal, but eventually spreading the virus to more vulnerable people.

Health officials say families must weigh the risks carefully this year. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention [CDC] issued supplemental guidelines about the different risks to consider.

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