How your Thanksgiving dinner could turn into a hospital stay

Posted at 6:23 AM, Nov 24, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-24 06:23:03-05

GRAND RAPIDS, Mich. — With record level COVID-19 cases, local hospitals are creating overflow units and are concerned that family gatherings for Thanksgiving could make matters worse.

We have more on how you can stay safe at the dinner table this year, plus warnings from infectious disease experts at Spectrum Health and Mercy Health St. Mary’s on how this could turn into a hospital stay for your loved ones.

“Infections within a household are much more dangerous than infections that happened in the community,” says Andrew Peter Jameson, MD, infectious disease and internal medicine at Mercy Health Physician Partners. "In the community, our guard is u, we're much more protected, we are careful about hand hygiene, we're wearing a mask all the time. When you get into small group gatherings or you're in your own home, all of us let our guard down, and that's natural."

So this year, Zoom is a great option to connect with family. But when you gather in the same home, you can take some steps that could help lower the risk of spreading COVID-19, such as preparing your mea; before your guests arrive so you can sit and eat. You can also try to spend more time outdoors near a campfire or patio heater.

Dr. Russell Lampen DO, infectious disease doctor at Spectrum Health, points to “other things, like wearing masks when people aren't eating, using paper towels in the bathrooms, all of those things can certainly help decrease the risk. But the largest thing that we can do to decrease the risk during the holidays is to keep our gathering small."

Keep in mind that cracking your windows to increase ventilation can help, because air exchange helps dilute the virus in the air.

The amount of the virus you're exposed to can matter.

“How much virus you get into you with your exposure matters,” says Dr. Jameson. "What happens is, if I'm wearing a mask and the person who's infected is wearing a mask, the amount of virus to get out of them and into me if they're infected is so much lower than if we were unmasked. What happens is the inoculum is low enough that we do not get a severe infection. The problem comes when we start going into unmasked scenarios, or we are in areas where we let our guard down. Because now if I'm sitting in a living room watching the Lions game and screaming at what they're doing again, I -- if I'm infected -- I will give everyone around me a huge viral inoculum. And because we're doing this over a prolonged period of time, that inoculum is large enough that they will get severely ill this time."

So, while it’s a tough choice to make around the holidays, precautions can ultimately save the lives of those we love.

The doctors also want to remind everyone to get a flu shot if you haven’t yet, saying the last thing we need is a flu pandemic on top of a COVID pandemic.