Even limited gatherings are no longer safe

Are small gatherings safe?
Photo via PakLun Chan/Flickr (CC BY 2.0)

Large gatherings and “superspreader events” have been canceled nationwide this year due to the COVID-19 pandemic. Experts are now suggesting that even small gatherings are no longer safe and are in fact accelerating the spread of COVID-19.

Large gatherings have been banned in many states and travel has been discouraged by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, but small groups of people are still going out to eat and drink and even throwing parties at home. Though many don’t think of this behavior as particularly dangerous, experts say it is still risky.

“What we’re seeing as the increasing threat right now is actually acquisition of infection through small household gatherings,” CDC Director Robert Redfield said during a call with U.S. governors, according to CNN. “Particularly with Thanksgiving coming up, we think it’s really important to stress the vigilance of these continued mitigation steps in the household setting.”

Redfield said though he was seeing “a higher degree of vigilance and mitigation steps in many jurisdictions,” those efforts are being thwarted by small gatherings where mitigation steps are largely flouted.

There is no official number of people that classifies a gathering as “small” or “large,” and there is no size of gathering deemed safe by the CDC. As the U.S. approaches the holiday season and colder weather forces many indoors, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, says Americans are creating “a bad recipe for a tough time ahead” by socializing with those outside their households.

“We’re going into a precarious situation,” Fauci told Dr. Howard Bauchner, editor of the Journal of the American Medical Association. “You get one person who’s asymptomatic and infected, and then all of a sudden, four or five people in that gathering are infected. To me, that’s the exact scenario that you’re going to see on Thanksgiving.”

The CDC said the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is with only the people you live with, or through a virtual celebration. The same goes for Christmas. The CDC warns that indoor gatherings with poor ventilation are riskier than outdoor parties, and the longer the gathering, the higher your chance of contracting COVID-19. Additionally, gatherings with people traveling from different places are riskier than those with only locals.

A vaccine may become widely available starting in April, according to Fauci. Until then, Americans will have to continue taking COVID-19 precautions. The U.S. is already seeing a large increase in COVID-19 cases and things could continue to worsen during the holiday season.

Sources: CNN, Health, NBC News, CDC, NPR

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