JACKSON – No matter what you decide to do for the holidays this year, it’s probably fair to say things might look different.
The main line of advice from public health officials doesn’t jibe with the large gatherings people are used to.
“At this point we are encouraging people to really only hang out with their household because of the risk level we’re in and how many cases we have,” Teton County public health coordinator Rachael Wheeler said.
Wheeler stopped short of telling people not to have Thanksgiving dinners, but she did say Teton County Health Department officials were asking residents to “reevaluate their plans.” Contact tracers have found people are contracting the virus even at small gatherings with folks they don’t live with, especially if they don’t wear masks around each other.
While the time has passed for families to quarantine for a full two weeks before the holiday, which would have allowed families to rule out exposure before seeing each other, there are still things people can do.
“Could you and your family members take a Vault test on Monday so that you know what your testing status was?” Wheeler said. “Or could you work from home until Thanksgiving and not see anyone else?”
Because the coronavirus has a 14-day incubation period, people could have been exposed within the last week but not show symptoms or infectiousness until Thanksgiving. Quarantining from right now would limit new exposures, though it wouldn’t be a sure bet that you don’t have the virus.
Testing will give you a baseline of whether you are symptomatic early in the week heading into the holiday. Most tests have a two or three day turnaround time, so Wheeler suggested doing one Monday if you go that route.
However, the problem with testing is that it is just a snapshot in time, so someone who tests negative Monday could be infectious by Thanksgiving.
The Health Department is asking people to think about the size, duration, and location of their gatherings, as well as the behavior during them, like social distancing and mask wearing. Folks who still want to get together, Wheeler said, could eat in the middle of the day, when doing so outside might be more pleasant, or they could set up in the garage, where ventilation might be better with a garage door open.
Another situation public health officials are worried about goes hand in hand with the holidays. College-age kids are returning home, and they may bring the virus back home along with their dirty laundry.
Teton County School District No. 1 Superintendent Gillian Chapman alluded to this at last week’s school board meeting when she was discussing viral transmission among students over the holidays.
“As a parent of a college kid, it’s so exciting to have my daughter home, but, you know, avoiding hugging her will be my first priority at least for a couple of weeks,” she said.
Avoiding hugs and other physical contact is just part of the Health Department’s guidance for families with kids returning home. Quarantining within the home is the best bet, according to the department’s website, meaning parents and kids should avoid each other and eat off separate dishes, maintain social distance, and either use separate bathrooms or disinfect a single bathroom after each use for the first 14 days.
Kids traveling home are also encouraged to be tested about seven days after they arrive.
All that may sound arduous, and some will likely deem that level of precaution unnecessary, but the hope is that those actions mean the pandemic disrupts just one holiday season.
“It’s not forever. It’s just for now,” Wheeler said.