In what seems to be the latest sign of government officials acting independently of the Trump administration, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offered a simple message in its first media briefing since October: Stay home this Thanksgiving.
Public briefings by the CDC have been rare since nearly the start of the pandemic, sometimes with months passing between them. Even when the CDC has spoken publicly, often the only voice has been CDC director Robert Redfield, who has been criticised over his willingness to allow officials elsewhere in the administration undermine CDC scientists. This briefing is be the first since June to involve other CDC officials, as well as the first since Joe Biden won the presidential election in early November.
During a conference call with reporters today, Henry Walke, the CDC’s director of the Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections, provided a clear message, stating that the CDC is “recommending against travel in the Thanksgiving period.” He added that this was a strong recommendation.
The advice comes in the midst of what’s become the largest surge of the pandemic worldwide and in the U.S to date. Just yesterday, according to the World Health Organisation, there were nearly 10,000 reported deaths globally — the highest single-day toll recorded so far. As of Thursday, there are now around 80,000 people hospitalized with the viral illness in the U.S., while over 1,800 deaths were reported the day before.
Experts worry that holiday travel will only worsen the state of the pandemic, as people cross the country for large gatherings indoors. Yet so far, many people seem set in their turkey plans. A survey last week found that about 40% of Americans plan to attend gatherings of 10 or more people during the holidays.
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In recent weeks, there does appear to have been a change in the CDC’s messaging to the public regarding the pandemic. In late October, the agency quietly removed language from its website that stressed the “importance of reopening America’s schools,” along with documents downplaying the risks of keeping in-person schooling intact. There is mixed evidence on whether schools are a major source of community spread, but polling suggests that many parents are wary of sending their kids to schools — concerns likely amplified by uncontrolled outbreaks happening almost everywhere in the country.
The CDC’s latest recommendations on travel and Thanksgiving are just that — recommendations. So it’s likely that many people will take the risk and travel anyway, or host their own large Thanksgiving dinners. In light of that, the CDC has also provided advice on how to at least minimise the risk of catching or spreading the viral illness.
Among the tips:
- Hold any gathering outside
- Wear a mask whenever possible
- Handle only your own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils, and use disposable ones if possible
- And if you are having dinner inside, then open doors and windows to bring in fresh air.
Folks, it’s been a horrible year, and we all miss spending carefree time with friends and family. But effective vaccines are on the horizon, and Thanksgiving will still be here next year.