Experts warn against even the smallest of gatherings on New Year’s Eve

MEMPHIS, Tenn. — Every day, the numbers become more frightening as the coronavirus continues to spread in the Mid-South.

There was a surge in new cases after Thanksgiving, and days after the Christmas holiday, while within the two-week incubation period, health experts expect another surge.

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Hospitals in the Mid-South continue to be stretched thin. Monday, Arkansas set a record with more than 1,150 people hospitalized.

Just days before New Year’s Eve, they are again asking people to think about gatherings differently.

Many are opting to stay home and bring in the new year in smaller gatherings, and as infectious disease expert Dr. Steve Threlkeld said, people making those plans may want to think twice about even the smallest get-togethers.

“We still need to make sure that people are doing the right thing,” Threlkeld said in an interview Tuesday evening. “If you get together, it’s going to be a potential problem that will have further-reaching effects.”

Threlkeld said people can be lulled into a false sense of security, thinking because they keep their gatherings small, they do not have to wear masks and socially-distance.

In the weeks after Thanksgiving, confirmed cases of COVID-19 skyrocketed. The 7-day average of new cases on Thanksgiving Day was just below 340 in Shelby County. It peaked weeks later at 869 per day on Dec. 18.

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Medical experts fully expect the same trend after the Christmas holiday, straining healthcare workers and hospitals even more.

Just days ago, COVID-19 hospitalizations in Tennessee passed the 3,000 marks for the first time. More than 550 in Memphis-area hospitals, as of 5 p.m. Monday.

“We seem to forget about the fact that we just don’t know when we have it because so many people are asymptomatic, so we can be a real risk to the people around us without even realizing it,” said Threlkeld, remarking on how the virus can then be spread to who are at a higher risk for complications if the virus is passed on, such as older family members.

“Many look to testing in the days ahead of gathering, however, being a carrier of the virus is still possible even days after the test,” Threlkeld said.

“It certainly doesn’t mean if your test is negative, you are safe and assured that you can’t give it to someone else. Off the top, there’s a 20 percent false-negative rate in those tests,” Threlkeld said.

The largest share of people getting COVID-19 right now are people ages 18-40 years old, acting as spreaders of the virus.