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Chicago's Top Doctor Warns Against Travel For Thanksgiving Amid Spiking Coronavirus Metrics

The city's top doctor does not see Chicago moving in the right direction over the upcoming month

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As coronavirus cases and hospitalizations increase in Chicago, the city's top doctor warned against traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday next month.

Chicago Department of Public Health Director Dr. Allison Arwady said Tuesday that traveling "is a concern right now" ahead of Thanksgiving.

"When we are coming from Chicago or from Illinois and traveling out, we are bringing a potential risk of COVID," Arwady said. "When people are coming to Chicago for most of the country at this point, they're bringing an elevated risk of COVID."

Arwady said she is not planning to travel this Thanksgiving unless the city sees significant improvements on their coronavirus tracking map of the area.

"I would encourage you, especially if you normally are getting together with people who are older or have underlying health conditions, to think seriously about whether this is the year for travel," Arwady said.

Arwady added that the health department is specifically concerned about college students who may travel around the country over the Thanksgiving holiday, potentially heightening the already surging coronavirus metrics.

"My hope is that a month from now we'll be in a better place. But that's not the way the numbers are heading now," Arwady said.

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Chicago's top doctor said Tuesday that approximately 8,213 Chicago residents have been diagnosed with COVID-19, and are currently considered to be “active” cases.

According to Arwady, officials believe there could be between five and seven times as many active cases as are currently being reported, due to residents who haven’t been tested or who aren’t showing symptoms.

In all, more than 94,000 Chicago residents have been diagnosed with coronavirus since the pandemic began. Of those residents, 88% have recovered, while a reported 3,037, or 3% of those infected, have died, Arwady said.

The Illinois Department of Public Health previously released guidelines for how to celebrate the holidays and enjoy family gatherings safely during the coronavirus pandemic.

“COVID-19 has changed the way we work, live, and play, and will now change how we plan to celebrate the holidays,” IDPH Director Dr. Ngozi Ezike said in a statement. “While the safest way to celebrate is with members of your household and connecting with others virtually, we know, for many, the holidays are all about family and friends, so we want to provide some tips on how to celebrate safer.”

Among the guidance was:

Travel

  • Traveling increases the chance of spreading COVID-19. When planning travel, consider the mode of transportation. 
    • Traveling by plane, train, or bus can mean standing in lines and sitting less than 6 feet from people for long periods of time. 
    • Traveling by car may include stops along the way for gas, food, and bathroom break. 
  • Decrease your risk by consistently wearing face coverings during travel. 
  • If you are sick, do not travel and do not attend gatherings and celebrations. Even if your symptoms are mild, you may still be able to infect others.

Gatherings

  • If you are hosting a holiday gathering, limit the number of guests.
  • Try to have as many activities outside as weather permits.
  • If your gathering needs to be inside, try to increase air flow by partially opening a couple windows. 
  • Please prepare yourself and your guests to wear masks indoors when not eating and drinking.
  • Limit your activities in the two weeks before your gathering and ask your guests to do the same. This will decrease the risk of exposure to the virus and further spread.
  • Think about the seating arrangements if you are planning a meal. Keep members of the same household together and try to put space between one family and another. 
  • When serving food, avoid a buffet-style or potluck setting and consider having one person serve all the food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils.
  • Try to limit the number of people going in and out of areas where food is being prepared – like the kitchen and dining room.
  • If you are sick, do not travel and do not attend gatherings and celebrations. Even if your symptoms are mild, you may still be able to infect others.
  • To help stave off illness, get your flu vaccine now. It takes the body several weeks after receiving the vaccine to build up antibodies that will help protect you from flu, so get it now to help protect you and others during the holidays. 

Shopping

  • Try to do gift shopping online by looking at local store websites and choosing pick-up options. 
  • Grocery shopping online with delivery and curbside pick-up is also available in many locations. 
  • If you need to shop in-person, try to go at a time when stores are not as busy.

"There is no free pass in the season of giving when it comes to COVID-19," Gov. J.B. Pritzker said Wednesday. "When confronted with decisions about the upcoming holiday season, many people who have erred on the side of caution up to now might face new temptation to let their guard down.Let me be blunt: the virus isn’t taking a holiday. It only wants to find new hosts. And if you think it’s ok to let your guard down because some people seem fine after they get COVID-19, I’ll remind you that many young people in their 20s and 30s and 40s are experiencing 'long-hauler' symptoms of this virus — pulmonary issues, months long breathing and coughing issues, exhaustion. Even for healthy, young people, that’s not a walk in the park, so don’t treat it like one. The safest thing to do is take precautions.

"Dr. Ezike and I want to be with our families and friends during the holidays too," he added. "We are all human beings, and we all want to see and spend time with our loved ones whom we’ve spent the better part of a year worrying about."

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