Celebrating the holidays amid a pandemic: Health experts urge caution after wave of COVID-19 cases

Local Coronavirus Coverage

JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) — While many have had to deal with the stress of having to isolate from loved ones to prevent the spread of COVID-19, the upcoming holidays have provided the perfect opportunity to reconnect.

Health officials continue advising to not let up after another wave of COVID-19 cases is hitting communities.

As we head into the December holidays, top health officials are warning the community about one thing: that COVID-19 is still here.

“It’s surging in nearly every county around Virginia,” Virginia deputy secretary of health and human resources, Dr. Vanessa Walker Harris, said.

As of Friday, Virginia’s COVID-19 positivity rate sits at 7.27%, according to the Mayo Clinic’s interactive map.

“And we have thousands of more cases now than we did in the spring,” Harris said.

Tennessee’s positivity rate sits at 8.39%. The Tri-Cities as a whole is more than doubled, having a 22% positivity rate.

“We’re seeing probably anywhere from 130 to 170 cases per day that we’re accounting for,” said Ballad Health Chief Operating Officer Eric Deaton. “I’m not sure if we’re seeing cases to the Thanksgiving holiday quite yet, but we may start seeing those.”

“What we understand is that people are gathering more with friends and gathering with people who are not part of their household, and that the cooler temperatures are driving us more indoors, which makes sense, but that’s also where the virus spreads more easily from person-to-person,” Harris said.

Dr. Walker Harris stresses the safest way to spend the December holidays is to stay home to protect you and your family.

“I get it; I can personally relate,” Harris said. “I’m from Ohio, and I’m the only one of my siblings who is not there in Ohio, and my kids and I look forward to traveling in Ohio and each Thanksgiving.”

Ballad Health is facing one of the biggest struggles right now: reaching capacity.

“Probably the best thing you can do is stay away from crowds as much as possible and gatherings. Even if you wear a mask, there’s still a risk of transmission,” Deaton said.

“We can stop the spread of the virus, but we have to each do our part. By doing these things, we can see our friends and family in person again next year,” Harris said.

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