Dr. Kris Box

Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box responds to questions from state media about Indiana’s COVID-19 situation on Wednesday.

INDIANAPOLIS — As much as Indiana State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box would like to see her family this year for Thanksgiving, she's told family members she'd rather see them the next 20 years more.

With Thanksgiving next week and other winter holidays coming up, Box is advising Hoosiers to take more precautions in their gatherings.

With COVID-19 cases, hospitalizations and deaths already at record highs, bringing more households together in close quarters for Thanksgiving dinner can and likely will lead to even more spread of the virus before 2020 is over.

"Holiday celebrations need to look different this year," Box said.

Before even addressing Nov. 26's holiday, Box first spoke about a new challenge arriving in homes recently or in the near future — college students.

While case counts have been shooting higher recently, thousands of cases are being identified in Hoosier under 30 and large college town settings can be hotspots for the virus to transmit in dorms, at parties, at bars and other gatherings.

Box advised that the best practice would be for any college student coming home at the end of the semester to undergo a full 14-day quarantine regardless of their known COVID-19 status.

College students should mask up even in their own homes, utilize a separate bathroom if possible, isolate as much as possible from other family members and especially avoid elderly family members or others who are at high-risk for the virus.

"Behave as if you have COVID or have been exposed," Box said. "Don't head out to the bars or hang out with all the friends you haven't seen in months. You need to keep that social bubble small."

Thanksgiving is usually one of the nation's busiest travel days as people gather to share dinner and family time together, but bringing together multiple households, especially if those households are from different parts of the state or from other states introduces risk into tight quarters.

The easiest solution is one that most people probably don't want to hear — stay home and don't gather.

"Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. You can still celebrate by having a small dinner," Box said.

That's probably not likely, however, so Box also provided other guidance for families that do still plan to gather in order to do so as safely as possible.

Those tips include asking everyone to wear masks while indoors when not eating; having hand sanitizer available in the house and at the dinner table; spacing out diners as much as possible even if that means additional tables or spreading people out in different rooms; increasing ventilation in the house by opening windows or running air filters; having people self-screen for symptoms ahead of coming over for dinner or getting a test ahead of the holiday to ensure you're COVID-free before gathering.

Older family members and those at high risk should take more precautions to protect themselves at Thanksgiving or are strongly encouraged not to join younger family members for the holiday.

Most importantly, Box stressed that anyone who is symptomatic and ill, regardless of what they might think they have, should stay home and not gather.

"If you have a fever or any other signs or symptoms of illness, stay home or cancel your gathering," Box said.

Because of the height of the spread and because of the serious impacts the state has seen on nursing home patients, Box advised that no one should pull residents of long-term care facilities out to join for holiday gatherings.

"We do not recommend taking anyone from a long-term care setting out to celebrate the holiday," Box said.

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