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Health officials urge big side of precaution at Thanksgiving

By KIM CHANDLER Associated Press

MONTGOMERY, Ala. (AP) — State health officials are urging people to serve up a heaping side of precaution at Thanksgiving as the holiday comes during a national surge in COVID-19 cases.

Health officials are urging people to skip large family gatherings in favor of scaled-back events.

“We all want to see our family at holiday time and yet this is a special year. This is a year unlike any we’ve ever had,” Alabama State Health Officer Scott Harris said. “Many things maybe could be done virtually, which is not nearly as much fun but certainly safer.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has i ssued guidelines.

Suzanne Judd, an epidemiologist from the University of Alabama at Birmingham’s School of Public Health, said Thanksgiving is particularly problematic because it’s a holiday celebrated by family gatherings indoors.

“Gatherings greater than 10 people pose a substantial risk of one of the people being COVID-positive and not knowing. You combine that with eating and drinking and socializing and laughing and singing, and it is just something that could lead to substantial COVID transmission,” Judd said.

Health officials have expressed concern about an uptick in cases and hospitalizations. Alabama Gov. Kay Ivey this week extended the state’s mask mandate, although she lifted occupancy limits on stores and other places in the hopes of letting businesses make up lost economic ground.

Dr. Don Williamson, the former state health officer who now heads the Alabama Hospital Association, said health officials believe family gatherings are partly responsible for the spread of cases as well as people becoming tired of wearing masks.

“I do think it’s a combination of COVID fatigue. I think it’s a combination of family gatherings and large group gatherings,” Williamson said.

Harris said the risk increases as people mix with people from other households, particularly indoors.

“Try to distance to the extent you can. If the weather permits, try to do things outdoors if you can. Be mindful of hygiene,” Harris said.

He also pleaded with people to stay home if they think they may be ill.

“Even though we all want to go have Thanksgiving, if you have any concerns about your health, that is not the time to get around your friends and family,” Harris said.

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