As fall begins in earnest, it appears that we are in the midst of the long-feared second surge of Coronavirus cases. In Maryland, as in many states, cases and hospitalization rates are steadily rising to a crescendo. As two emergency medicine physicians working in Maryland, we can attest that we are seeing more COVID cases in our ERs. As COVID begins to mix with the seasonal flu, we are genuinely concerned that the number of critically sick patients during this time may very well outmatch our ability to provide proper care for everyone. It is against this backdrop that we find ourselves, for the first time in our lives, truly dreading Thanksgiving.
Thanksgiving is normally a time for celebration, for families to gather around a table and share a meal together. Yet, this year, Thanksgiving stirs up a sense of trepidation for many of us in healthcare. We worry that, as families gather around the table, they may be inadvertently spread coronavirus to one another. There have been several cases of multiple family members dying from COVID after exposure at family gatherings. With the advent and rapid advancement of contact tracing, experts have been able to pinpoint these gatherings as “hotspots” for clustered COVID cases.
Make no mistake: COVID-19 is lethal. The combination of seasonal viruses including influenza, RSV, croup, and others, with coronavirus coalesces into a deadly combination affecting all age groups. It is well noted that susceptible COVID populations have traditionally been the elderly, those with chronic medical conditions, and people of color while younger, healthier individuals have enjoyed much lower fatality rates. However, with Fall viral and asthma seasons approaching, the upcoming months may require heightened safety standards. Having gatherings during this sensitive time can be the difference between life and death, literally.
As two family-centered individuals, we completely understand the desire to spend time with loved ones over a meal. We empathetically recognize how important the holiday season is for many people but we urge everyone reading this to reconsider all social gatherings. Last month, we and several of our colleagues have had patients die of COVID, right in our hands. This past week while working in the pediatric emergency room, one of us provided care to a premature infant with COVID who ended up requiring ventilator support in the pediatric ICU. Could you imagine having your child acquiring COVID-19 and being on critical care life support? Could you imagine your aunts, uncles, or grandparents dying in a hospital alone after possibly contracting COVID from your gathering? Is it worth having permanent lung damage?
If you are having a Thanksgiving gathering with people outside of your home, please follow CDC guidelines. To the best of your ability, please try and wear a facemask when not eating. Ideally, your gathering would be outside or in an open air area but we realize that is not feasible for many people. Regardless of where you host your gathering, please try and maintain at least six feet between you and others. As always, wash your hands frequently. These steps can help mitigate some of the risks inherent with a Thanksgiving celebration. Though, we should add, these steps will not remove the risks. The most effective way to reduce COVID risks associated with Thanksgiving is to not have out people who live outside of your home over.
As two emergency medicine physicians, we are genuinely concerned that, in the days and weeks after Thanksgiving, we will see a large increase in the number of critically ill COVID patients. Thanksgiving has the potential to be a ‘super spreader’ event, with large, extended families gathering and inadvertently spreading the virus amongst themselves. We are begging you all to please limit your celebrations this year. We realize this is a huge sacrifice but your sacrifice this holiday can be the difference between us being able to care for all of our patients and being overwhelmed.