covid thanksgiving

COVID and Thanksgiving: Here's How Chicago Doctors Say You Can Celebrate Safely

With a possible new surge expected around Thanksgiving, health officials say taking precautions is crucial

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Thanksgiving will be noticeably different and less restrictive compared to last year, but COVID-19 is still a top concern for those hoping to celebrate safely.

A spokesperson for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said the agency fully expects families and friends will gather for the holidays this year. The best way to celebrate safely, according to the CDC, is to be fully vaccinated against COVID-19.

Speaking at a news conference Friday, Chicago Mayor Lori Lightfoot echoed the message, saying it's "a must" for those who intend on gathering with loved ones for the holiday season.

"Remember, a year ago, we were standing here, many of us, to tell you don't gather for Thanksgiving," she stated. "Because of the concern that we had with the spread of the vaccine. We're in a very different place this year because of the vaccine. So still be cautious."

Mercedes Carnethon, vice chair of preventative medicine at Northwestern Medicine, notes that a vaccinated older adult is still at higher risk of contracting COVID compared to an unvaccinated child.

She urges people to use extra caution around older adults who haven't had a booster shot or those have underlying conditions including cancer, cardiovascular diseases and chronic kidney disease.

"Individuals who are immunocompromised still may not have a very robust response to a booster, so I would hate for someone to put too much reliance on a booster," she said. "Nothing is risk free here." 

Carnethon said if you plan to host a gathering with someone who hasn't been vaccinated, consider disinviting them from the meal portion - when masks have to be off.

Dr. Allison Arwady, the commissioner of the Chicago Department of Public Health, also shared concerns about those who haven't gotten the shot.

"...Would just encourage people to be extra careful...if you yourself are not fully vaccinated, and you're going to be gathering with others. And it is a higher risk situation," she said. "There's there's no way around it."

Dr. Sadiya Khan, assistant professor of medicine in epidemiology at the Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, discussed potential ways to minimize risk, including continuing to wear masks while traveling.

With a possible surge expected around Thanksgiving, health officials say taking precautions is crucial, but ultimately the decision is up to each family.

Nothing is risk free here. 

Mercedes Carnethon, Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine

"...You have to decide how much risk will you tolerate," Khan said. "Is the risk of having a guest who is unvaccinated worth the benefit of having them there?”

And hope is on the horizon, especially when it comes to Christmas.

Children between five and 11 years old will have the chance to be fully vaccinated by then.

"My 75-year-old mother in Georgia hasn’t seen my unvaccinated children since March 2020," Carnethon said. "My kids are so excited to see her. Things will change for Christmas when children over five are fully vaccinated.” 

In order to have the series complete by Christmas, children must receive their first dose by Nov. 19.

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