SALT LAKE CITY — After weeks of pleading from health leaders across not only the state but the country for people to avoid traveling for Thanksgiving and to only see people they live with, the holiday is over and it becomes a wait and see game.
“Unless people really took the public health warnings and stayed home and didn’t congregate as multiple household units coming together, this has the potential of being a big spreading event, this entire holiday season,” Erin Clouse, Strategic Engagement Manager for Health Sciences at the University of Utah Health said.
In March, Clouse, like many Utahns, began working from home. She began to develop a curiosity of COVID-19 trends, so she started plotting and making graphs.
“I wanted to see for myself, I thought maybe there were some interesting stories that weren’t being described very well,” she said.
Months later, what started as a hobby has turned into something people are using to look at COVID-19 Trends and providing an easy to understand look at the pandemic. The most surprising thing has been to see how much you can predict human behavior, Clouse said.
“It was just really interesting to see human behavior really leading to spreading of this disease, over and over again,” she said.
After every major holiday since the pandemic, Utah has seen a spike in cases, Clouse said. This will be the first holiday that was mostly celebrated inside which adds another level of concern. It usually takes 10-14 days to see the impact from an event, Clouse said.
“It is going to be a wait and see how vigilant was the population over Thanksgiving to stop and slow the spread,” she said.
People who did travel or meet with people outside of their immediate household should monitor for symptoms and take extra precautions including possibly getting tested or even quarantining if someone believed they were exposed, Dr. Todd Vento, infectious disease physician for Intermountain Healthcare, said.
“You’re hearing out of the White House task force from Dr. Burks and others is that they are essentially saying, ‘make an assumption that you were exposed at Thanksgiving if you traveled and you met with individuals outside your home’,” he said.
Right now, Utah is seeing a slight decrease in the rolling COVID-19 seven-day positivity rate and while hospitals are spread thin, they are managing, Vento said. There is true concern what the Thanksgiving holiday, and the remainder of the holiday season will bring, Vento said.
“The next step is are we going to have a surge within a surge because of something like a super spreader event like traveling associated with Thanksgiving. If that were to happen, that’s when I think you would see what people are considering a tipping point of having to transition more into crisis standards of care potentially,” he said.
It will all depend on how many people contract COVID-19 and how many of them end up in the hospital.
The latest available data shows most people are contracting COVID-19 from informal, casual gatherings, a spokesperson for the Utah Department of Health said. The current surge in cases already is impacting COVID-19 contract tracing, Jenny Johnson said.
“In some areas we are not able to do full contract tracing, which means you could be exposed to COVID-19 and you’re never going to get a call from the Health Dept. simply because our staff cannot keep up with the people who test positive,” she said.
It could be three weeks before Utahns see the full impact of the Thanksgiving holiday including hospitalizations.
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