Local health experts weigh in on getting a pre-Thanksgiving COVID-19 test


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – A week and a half before Thanksgiving, people are having to make hard decisions about how to celebrate the holiday during the pandemic.

Health officials continue to plead with the public to use caution when getting together, especially with older or medically fragile family and friends.

Here is what the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention advises:

The first steps are wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands. When attending a gathering, bring your own food, avoiding going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared, and use disposable eating utensils and plates.

Some are considering a pre-Thanksgiving COVID-19 test, just to make sure they’re in the clear.

But is that really the way to go?

Pheben Kassahun went to local health experts to find out.

If you are hoping to travel to see family this Thanksgiving, local health officials advise not to but if you must, they advise you to strictly quarantine yourself as soon as possible.

“We’re already into to the 14 days, so if you haven’t started your quarantine then you’re a little behind the ball,” ETSU Director of COVID Response Dr. Leigh Johnson said.

Johnson said not seeing anyone outside of your household is the best preventative measure one could take, before traveling.

“If you want to travel and see any of your family, you should have already started quarantining because we’re in that two weeks prior too Thanksgiving. A two-week quarantine absolutely as strictly as you can, not seeing anybody outside your immediate household, being very safe with masks anytime you’re around people hand washing, staying 6 feet apart, and then if you want to add on a test to that in a couple of days before you go, that is an added piece of information,” Dr. Johnson said.

Even if you get tested right before Thanksgiving, a negative result may not reflect your true risk to family and friends, according to Dr. Stephen May with the Sullivan County Health Department.

“You can’t use testing in that way because we really don’t know what day you decide to become infected and spread the virus. If you got tested that day, let’s say with the quick antigen test then you’re good for that day, but you’re not good for tomorrow or the next day.” May said, “That is very helpful to do that, but you have to remember you can be incubating for up to 14 days of exposure so if you had a potential exposure and you’re still incubating, and decide to show your infection on Day 13 or 14, then you can have a potential mess but your risk will be much less.”

Dr. Johnson added: “A COVID test right before you travel for Thanksgiving isn’t really reassuring just because we know that COVID tests can have a high false-negative rate, especially early in the course so if you have just been exposed, your test won’t be positive for several days.”

He said it is best to just stay home to prevent any kind of risk.

“The best way is to visit virtually if you possibly can and not make in-person visits, but if you must, put masks on both parties and maintain 6 feet apart,” Dr. May said.

Johnson said: “In my house, we are staying home. We are not seeing extended family this holiday season, which is really hard but it just seems like the right thing to do for our community and for our families.”

However, there is hope on the horizon.

“We need to keep our guard up. With vaccine coming, I think there’s a ray of light at the end of the tunnel, and once we get vaccines started going out that we can protect our most vulnerable, then I think that’s the time we can maybe start relaxing. Right now, we’re in the heat of battle. We need to maintain our guard, protect our most vulnerable, and take care of each other,” Dr. May said.

Both ETSU and the Sullivan County Health Department have what is called a PCR test, which is considered to be a gold standard test. It is quicker than previous COVID tests. This test is free at the Sullivan County Health Department, but an appointment is required

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