Emphasis on caution, safety as loved ones gather for holidays this year

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday will look a lot different for many than it did last year.

Last year, health experts urged people to stay home and skip a big group meal as COVID cases spiked.

Now, months after the vaccine has been widely available, doctors said prevention measures are more relaxed.

While this is good news, you’ll still need to be careful if you’re planning to celebrate with friends and family.

“This year is phenomenally different from last year,” infectious disease specialist Dr. Manoj Jain said. “We need to get back together with family and friends, but we need to do it safely.”

Dr. Jain said gatherings are OK this year but urges anyone who hasn’t been vaccinated to get a COVID test beforehand.

If you don’t know the vaccine status of everyone at your gathering, he also recommends wearing a mask until it’s time to eat and to social distance.

“There is no 100 percent guarantee that infection may not spread, however we know that even if someone gets Covid, we have lots of treatments afterward to manage,” he said.

While most health experts agree gatherings are much safer this year than last year, there is concern that cases will spike again.

In fact, the seven-day average of new cases has been rising steadily this month across the Mid-South.

This has doctors urging more people to get the vaccine and booster. If you’re over 18 and it’s been six months since your last dose of the vaccine, you’re eligible for the booster.

“It does take about two weeks to really see that peak level of protection after a booster, but antibodies rise within a few days,” Shirin Mazumder, an infectious disease expert in Memphis said. “Certainly, by Christmas time, if someone gets the booster now they will have the best level of protection.”

Dr. Mazumder said the viral reproductive rate is rising in the community. That means the virus is spreading faster.

“In the past, we’ve seen a surge after each major holiday and that certainly is a concern for this year as well,” she said.

Doctor Mazumder also recommends getting a test to know your status before gathering and to celebrate in a well-ventilated area with a window open if possible.

She also said use common sense. If you’re feeling sick, stay at home.