By Kathryn Schrag

(Kathryn Schrag is a retired nurse-midwife and family nurse-practitioner)

By the time this reaches our readers the big decision on the minds of many has been made: will you or will you not gather with people outside your household for Thanksgiving dinner during a time of worrisome rates of the corona virus and hospitalizations? Many will heed the warnings, in spite of “pandemic fatigue,” and will take the safer option: to dine only with those in their household, which for some means alone. Others will succumb to tradition coupled with the desire to see loved ones and are planning to get together. Whatever the decision the entire country looks forward to a 2021 holiday season with corona immunity and a return to our traditions.  

In the last weeks, the number of new cases and hospitalizations in Arizona has soared. Per the New York Times tracking project, as of Nov. 23, in the last 14 days the number of cases has increased 105% and the number of hospitalizations has risen 66%. Santa Cruz County is officially a “hot spot,” and among the three highest counties in AZ for new cases in the last week and has nearly double the rate of new cases than that of our neighboring counties Pima and Cochise. Even closer to home, per the PRT Covid page, in the last week the total number of cases in Patagonia increased from 11 to 13 and in Sonoita from 12 to 15. 

And particularly sobering, Tucson hospital bed capacity is shrinking. In the entire state of AZ, as of Nov. 23, 90% of all ICU beds are occupied, and statewide there are only 175 ICU beds available. As reported in the Arizona Daily Star, “An Arizona-specific model built by researchers at Arizona State University recently projected that the state could reach hospital capacity on Dec. 13 and ICU capacity on Dec. 22 in a scenario without any additional policies to mitigate the spread of the virus. In the best-case scenario without additional policies, the researchers expect hospital and ICU capacity to be reached on Dec. 31 and Jan. 11 respectively.”

Experts advise holding Thanksgiving outdoors. There are many sources of guidance for how to reduce the risk of social gatherings (see links below). For those who will be together with people other than your immediate household, some suggestions are:

  • Before guests arrive, be clear with them about your house practices concerning COVID, and remind them that if they are sick to please not come (while remembering that about 50% of cases are transmitted without the person having symptoms).
  • Be cautious about being reassured by a negative Covid-19 test; when and how to test is complicated.
  • Consider wearing masks when not eating and drinking.
  • If space permits, set up separate tables and chairs for each household, with the nearest people at least 6 feet apart.
  • If possible, use disposable plates, cutlery, and if you are serving buffet style, each household could bring their own serving utensils.
  • Plan for bathroom use: have paper towels available, and keep windows open and exhaust fans on.

With the holiday season just beginning, it is also time to consider what to do for December holidays.  The PRT Covid-19 page updated weekly with recommendations, resources and local data.