TRI-CITIES, Tenn./Va. (WJHL)- During a time of year where large parties are the norm, health experts are urging the public to keep their gatherings small.
Health officials are concerned holiday gatherings will worsen already severe rates of COVID-19 spread in the region. While they know people are tired of social distancing, they’re asking the public to hold off on hosting large indoor gatherings for a bit longer.
Virginia State Health Commissioner Dr. Norman Oliver suggests limiting gatherings to 10 or less, and keeping them to people in your household.
“The highest risk for contracting COVID-19 is being indoors, without a mask, with a bunch of other people. Try to have a small, family-based celebration. Make it ‘small-idays.'”
Dr. Oliver says it’s especially important now as case rates are higher than they were in April or May.
“It’s really running rampant. The case incidence as far as Southwest Virginia is quite high, as well as in Tennessee,” he said.
Heather Mullins, regional epidemiologist for the Sullivan County, Tennessee Health Department, is worried about high case rates overwhelming hospitals.
“Our percent positivity right now, we’re looking at 1 in 5 folks that get tested, and this is just for Sullivan County, are positive,” said Mullins.
The Department is posting snapshots of a risk calculator on its social media pages. It shows the chance of someone being unknowingly infected with the virus for different gathering sizes. On Friday afternoon, all northeast Tennessee counties had a risk level above 50% and as high as 96% for a gathering of 25 people.
Mullins suggested keeping holiday gatherings to your household, or ‘bubble’ – the people in your normal circle of contacts. If weather permits, it’s safest to hold gatherings outdoors.
“We really ask the public to just bear with us, and keep with us for a little bit longer with these messages until we can get through the holidays and start getting this vaccine rolled out,” Mullins said.
Dr. Oliver believes with the vaccine continuing its rollout in 2021, next holiday season will feel more normal.
“We’ll be sitting in a rocking chair, talking about the horrible days of COVID-19. But it will be in our rearview mirror,” he said.