Want to gather with family for Thanksgiving? Experts say you should start quarantining now
Line wraps up around City MD for COVID testing in Paramus on November 12, 2020. NorthJersey.com
College students are getting ready to return home, and the holiday season is upon us — so is the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic.
What's a family to do?
While state officials have advised against large family gatherings, folks may still be trying to find a way to spend time with loved ones this fall and welcoming students back into the fold.
Dr. Adam Jarrett, who serves as the chief medical officer at Holy Name Medical Center, said that the safest way to try to gather would be to get tested and then “truly self-quarantine for 10 days to two weeks.”
With Thanksgiving falling on Nov. 26, that means quarantine should begin now.
“That’s the only way that we can be pretty close to 100% safe,” Jarrett said. “Even with a negative test you would have to quarantine to really be safe. That means getting a test and then locking down for two weeks. I’m not proposing that people do it, but that’s the only way to get a level of comfort.”
Should I schedule a test?
Testing is imperfect because the antigen rapid tests have proven to be increasingly inaccurate in asymptomatic patients. Even the typical PCR test, although better, is not foolproof, Jarrett said. He said testing can lead to a false sense of security if it's not done the right way because people “don’t understand the realities of a false negative.”
Dr. Jack Cappitelli, the chief medical officer for the New Jersey region of the Summit CityMD urgent care chain echoed that sentiment and said that a negative test only provides results for that “moment in time – not a day or three later.”
“If testing is performed too early [even though] you’re infected the result may be negative," he said. "A so-called false negative could result if the virus level is too low to detect early in the infectious process.”
Cappitelli also advised people to celebrate only with members of their household.
How long will I wait for testing?
Jarrett also said that he has concerns about testing being used as a precautionary measure, because the availability of testing and the turnaround time on results inhibits this from being an option for everyone. More important, he worries that widespread testing could mean there won't be enough tests available for acutely ill individuals.
At CityMD locations, Cappitelli said, “demand for COVID-related visits, including testing, has never been higher” and that it has created long lines and wait times at almost all locations.
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For people who still want to gather, Jarrett suggested that they follow the rules including social distancing, wearing a mask and, if the weather allows, staying outside.
College students back home
Many campuses will be closing for the semester before Thanksgiving, meaning some college students won't have a choice to stay at school.
Cappitelli said that many schools are taking precautionary measures such as testing students prior to departure. Those testing positive should stay where they are and quarantine, he said. He noted that anyone entering New Jersey from states with a significant spread of COVID-19 should quarantine for 14 days regardless of testing status.
Jarrett said that in order to reintroduce students to their home bubble, or allow them to safely visit with family and friends, they should be tested and, yes, they will have to quarantine.
The CDC says that means taking meals in their own room, if possible. They should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups or utensils. Non-disposable items used should be handled with gloves and washed with soap and hot water or in a dishwasher.
Common bathroom spaces such as sinks could be an infection source, so individuals quarantining should avoid placing toothbrushes directly on counter surfaces.
“We’re in a second wave now in the Northeast,” Jarrett said. “It looks different because people are sick, but not as sick as in the spring. It’s concerning to me that we still have a long fall and winter ahead. It will get worse before it gets better and I expect that after Thanksgiving, Christmas and New Year’s there will be significant bumps.”
Jarrett said that any time anyone steps outside of their bubble, they are increasing their risk of infection, and that is especially true as they travel and interact with other people.
“All the holidays are risky times and I’m not saying don’t gather, just do it in a different way,” Jarrett said. “And be especially careful around vulnerable people.”
Katie Sobko is a local reporter for NorthJersey.com. For unlimited access to the most important news from your local community, please subscribe or activate your digital account today.