The Centers for Disease Control is advising Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving next week, saying Thursday that the extraordinary spike of a million new cases over the last week raises new concern that family gatherings could spread the virus among families and communities.
"Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year," the new guidelines state.
Erin Sauber-Schatz, the head of CDC's community intervention and critical population task force, said the agency is asking people to consider whether their holiday plans could bring them in contact with someone at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.
"We are really asking people to be flexible in their plans for Thanksgiving. In the last week we've seen over a million new cases Thanksgiving is a week away. And so if you are showing any signs and symptoms of COVID-19, we are strongly recommending that you do not travel, be flexible and make those decisions, moving forward in the next week," she said.
The number of Americans diagnosed with and hospitalized for COVID-19 have skyrocketed in almost every state in recent weeks. The country reported more than 165,000 new cases on Wednesday, according to CDC, and 20 states were at the highest numbers of people hospitalized for COVID-19 than any other point in the pandemic earlier this week, according to the COVID Tracking Project.
And given increases in case numbers after previous holidays like Labor Day and Memorial Day experts are concerned traveling and gathering for Thanksgiving could increase the risk of exposure for vulnerable populations.
"We're seeing exponential growth in cases," CDC COVID-19 incident manager Dr. Henry Walke said. "The opportunity to translocate disease or infection from one part of the country to another leads to our recommendation to avoid travel at this time."
CDC officials said they concerned not just about people spending time on planes, buses, trains, or in cars but also about transportation hubs like airports where it could be difficult to maintain distance from others.
CDC's COVID=19 incident manager Henry Walke said they know canceling Thanksgiving plans is a difficult decision, saying he plans to stay home for the holiday despite not seeing his parents since January.
"With Thanksgiving approaching our hearts and minds turned to seeing families and friends as part of one of our nation's great traditions. And we all need to consider the safest way to celebrate this holiday. Amidst this critical phase of the COVID-19 pandemic CDC is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving period," Walke said.
"These times are tough. It's been a long. It's been a long outbreak, almost 11 months now and people are tired. And we understand that and people want to see their, their relatives and their friends. And the way they've always done it. But this year, particularly we're asking people to be as safe as possible, and limit their travel," he added.
Sauber-Schatz said CDC's new guidance also clarifies the definition of "household," saying that just because someone is a family member, they aren't considered part of your household unless they've been living with you for 14 days - including college students.
"The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the people in your household, if people have not been actively living with you for the 14 days before you're celebrating. They are not considered a member of your household, and therefore you need to take those extra precautions, even wearing masks within your own home."
If family members are visiting or, like college students, traveling home for an extended period of time the guidance includes recommendations for "overnight guests," including providing a separate bathroom and wearing masks inside the home.
CDC recommends that if you are hosting a Thanksgiving gathering to have the meal outdoors if possible or open windows to increase circulation, limit the number of guests, be clear with guests about expectations for keeping distance and wearing masks,