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Thanksgiving tips: Eat, drink but be careful

WHEELING — The holiday season of 2021 is a different landscape from that of 2020; with the presence of COVID-19 vaccines and nearly two years of COVID fatigue behind them, residents will likely be looking forward to the big family gatherings of yesteryear.

While those gatherings will take place, recent trends in COVID cases and vaccine distribution again have health officials advising locals to err on the side of caution when making trips to join together around the dining room table.

Wheeling-Ohio County Health Administrator Howard Gamble pointed out that rather than a steady decrease, COVID numbers locally have begun to level off, which raises some concerns for the holiday season as people travel and welcome travelers.

“Whether it’s holiday events such as Thanksgiving, Christmas, or routine visits to a parent, it’s pretty standard,” Gamble said. “As we go into a group, whether it’s a family or friend, keep in mind that large gatherings can produce positive results, because you have more opportunity to be around a positive (case).

“These may be individuals who are vaccinated, partially vaccinated, or not, and they may have mild to no symptoms, who just wanted to make the event, who just wanted to be there, even though they felt a little ill. The opportunities are always there, whether it’s Sunday dinner with the family or a large holiday gathering.”

Some households require that all attendees be vaccinated to enter, to protect the vulnerable. One extreme step, Gamble said, is that some households require a negative COVID test.

In instances where strangers will be coming together, Gamble advised maintaining space when possible, with the goal of spending less than 15 minutes within 6 feet of people of uncertain vaccination status.

For coughing or sniffling individuals, including children, Gamble advised masks.

“If we’re going to be holding events, we’re making sure people are negative,” he said. “People have gone to the extremes of, before they go see older loved ones, making sure they’re tested. It’s an extreme measure, but you can do it, the testing sites are open, whether it’s us or other venues.

“If we’re going to be in a large group, and we’re around someone who’s coughing or sniffling — whether it’s a young child or someone that’s older — they should be the ones wearing a mask,” he continued. “Although we’re in a house, and we assume that if we’re in our house, we may not want to wear a mask. I understand that. But in this case, you may want to say, if you have little ones who are sniffling, you may want to put them in a mask just to be cautious.”

Though Thanksgiving is only a few days away, Gamble advised that any who have not yet done so get vaccinated ahead of the Christmas season.

“If you haven’t started (vaccination) or finished, or gotten your boosters, now’s the time to get them,” he said. “We’ll be a little behind for Thanksgiving, but there’s plenty of time to start that process so we’re ready for Christmas events.”

Gamble described a trend locally and statewide of COVID cases remaining steady or increasing, as well as a leveling off or decrease in vaccination rates.

“This is a concern, because usually a level-off going into a season of gathering, whether it’s July 4 or Christmas or Thanksgiving, we will see a spike following those events.

“That is concerning for public health, because we probably will see a small or large increase in cases as we go into early December.

“Be very cautious. If you’re going somewhere where they’ve had a large outbreak, where cases are really ramping up, you may want to rethink the trip, think about things to do locally, so that we’re all staying somewhat safe for the holiday season.”

Vaccinations and COVID testing are still available at The Highlands vaccine clinic at the former Michael’s building, as well as at local pharmacies.

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