Summit County health officials urge people to celebrate only with their household this Thanksgiving
KEYSTONE — With level red restrictions in full force in Summit County, one thing is clear: This Thanksgiving will be unlike any we’ve seen before.
Public health officials are prepared to see an inevitable bump in cases of the novel coronavirus in the weeks following the holiday. However, they’re hoping that people will choose to celebrate in ways that will keep that bump relatively low.
“When we’re putting more people together — in multiple generations, especially — we’re creating an environment where those most vulnerable for severe illness and possibly death are exposed,” Public Health Director Amy Wineland said. “We are not wanting that to happen.”
Throughout the pandemic, holidays have been a major driver of cases. The county saw a rise in cases after Memorial Day and Fourth of July, but it was Labor Day that pushed local numbers over the edge.
According to the county’s coronavirus webpage, the local incidence rate, which is the number of new cases per 100,000 people, was at 12.9 cases on Labor Day, Sept. 7. Since then, the incidence rate has risen exponentially to 1,100.9 new cases per 100,000 people as of Tuesday, Nov. 24.
With those numbers in mind, Wineland said the county’s public health team is hoping people follow local restrictions and celebrate the holiday only with their immediate household this year.
“What we don’t want to have happen is that we celebrate this year with your traditional ways of celebrating and then have fewer people at the table to celebrate with next year because of the risk of severe illness and fatality,” Wineland said.
Wineland clarified that “household” means only those living in a person’s residence. Extended family members don’t count. People who are gathering with more than one household on the holiday, or any day under level red restrictions, could be looking at up to $5,000 in fines for violating the public health order.
To report violations of the order, the county is asking people to call 970-668-8600.
While it may be easy to tell a family of four or five to only celebrate with one another, it becomes a little more complicated for people who live alone. Summit County Commissioner Elisabeth Lawrence said she feels for people who live alone because they don’t have the option to spend the holiday with another person.
“I know this is incredibly hard for people alone,” she said. “My father’s alone, and I know how hard Thanksgiving is going to be for people like that. I’m just asking everyone to take a commonsense approach and look at (how) our decisions now affect us weeks into the future.”
Public health is encouraging people to get creative with their celebrations this year. Wineland suggested that people invite neighbors and friends to join celebrations virtually by delivering food and hosting on Zoom.
“I’m encouraging families this year to adopt people within your neighborhood, who are living alone and who are isolated, so that they can receive a warm, hot meal as well as possibly join your meal virtually,” she said.
For the holiday, Zoom will be lifting its 40-minute time limit on free meetings, according to a tweet from the company.
Although officials are hoping that people follow the restrictions, they are not naive and know not everyone will. People who travel to another state or county, for example, might attend a gathering of more than one household.
Wineland said the safest way to do that is to have been quarantining for at least 14 days before travel, traveling alone by car and quarantining after arrival, especially if people who are in the high-risk category will be a part of Thanksgiving celebrations.
Wineland added that people should try to eat outdoors, if possible, and wear masks when they are not actively eating or drinking.
Wineland said getting a COVID-19 test is not a free pass.
“It only lets you know that day and time that you’re negative,” she said. “Sometimes, that gives people a false sense of security that that means they’re going to be safe and not expose any loved one that they might be visiting.”
However, no tests, masks or outdoor meals are going to protect people from spreading the virus to their loved ones in the way that spending the holiday with just household members will, Wineland said.
Both Wineland and Lawrence plan to follow the restrictions this year.
Wineland said she will be celebrating with her immediate household. In typical years, she would have friends over for the meal. This year, she and her kids will deliver hot meals to those people and invite them to virtually join the celebration.
By keeping the celebration to her household, Wineland said she hopes she will protect her mother, who is at a vulnerable age, from contracting the virus.
“I want to make sure that she’s going to be able to celebrate Christmas with us and next Thanksgiving for lots of holidays to come,” she said.
Lawrence also will be spending the holiday with just her household. She said she had plans to invite another family over but canceled after the restrictions went into place.
Lawrence said she hopes people will follow the restrictions in an effort to save Christmas and the peak ski season.
“Christmas, economically, is more important than Thanksgiving,” she said. “I urge our community to do everything that we can to think about these businesses that are so dependent on our ski season and what we can do now to ensure that for when it really counts.”
The following places offer testing for the virus in Summit County:
• Centura Health’s Centers for Occupational Medicine in Frisco: Testing available daily by appointment at the Vista Professional Building. To schedule an appointment, call 970-668-5584.
• State testing in Silverthorne: Drive-thru testing available from 9 a.m. to 6 p.m. daily at 464-478 E. Fourth St. in the overflow parking lot by the Silverthorne Recreation Center. No appointment, insurance or identification is required to be tested.
• Vail Health testing in Frisco: Testing is available by appointment from 8 a.m. to 5 p.m. Monday through Friday at the Old Community Center, 110 Third Ave. To book an appointment, email firstname.lastname@example.org including name, phone number, a copy of photo ID and front and back copies of a health insurance card.
Anyone who has been tested because of exposure to the virus is required to quarantine for 14 days regardless of test result, Public Health Director Amy Wineland said.
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