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CHAMPAIGN — What if you keep the gathering brief?

What if you wear masks and take them off only to take bites of your turkey and sweet potatoes?

What if you have just one or two people over for dinner?

No, no and no.

“It’s just too dangerous,” said Champaign-Urbana Public Health District Administrator Julie Pryde. “I can’t stress this enough to people.”

What public-health officials have been urging about holiday get-togethers has been reinforced by one of the new restrictions taking effect statewide Friday as COVID-19 cases have continued to explode.

No gathering with people outside your household. No exceptions.

“This is the year to be different,” Pryde said about Thanksgiving. “There’s nothing more protective about the winter holidays. In fact, it’s more dangerous.”

In addition to the rising number of COVID-19 cases that are being detected through testing, there are 5 to 7 percent more cases — asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic — that are unknown, she said. People with COVID-19 can be infectious two days before symptoms develop.

“So the likelihood of getting infected at your Thanksgiving gathering — I don’t care if you’re gathering is three — if one of you is infected, you all are going to be infected,” Pryde said.

Pryde’s own plans for Thanksgiving include delivering plates of food to people outside her household, she said.

Making and delivering food is OK, as long as it’s delivered to the porch, not indoors, and recipients wash their hands after handling the containers, according to Pryde.

Two of the scenarios nobody can count on to be safe, she said:

  • Having Thanksgiving dinner with your college student kids who don’t live at your home, since you or they could have become infected since the most recent tests any of you had.
  • Getting rapid tests, self-quarantining until Thanksgiving and getting together if all the tests are negative. That’s due to a 20 percent chance of getting a false-negative result, Pryde said.

“People need to think about this,” she said. “If you have Thanksgiving with someone and two to three days later you get sick, you will know you have infected everybody.”

Despite the warnings, Pryde said she’s dreading an explosion of new cases after the holiday.

Something else to consider by those who plan to disregard the warnings is that hospitals are already filling up, she said. And unlike this past spring, when health care workers from across the country went to help with the COVID-19 outbreak in New York, that kind of help from outside the area isn’t available now.

“We’re all in the same boat now,” Pryde said. “No one is going to be able to come and bail us out.”

Carle Foundation Hospital had 69 COVID-19 patients as of Wednesday. OSF HealthCare has declined to share the number of COVID-19 patients in its local hospitals, but, Pryde said, “trust me when I say hospitals are filling up.”

As hard as the holidays are going to be, she encouraged keeping in mind that vaccines are on the horizon for next year.

Pryde said she thinks it’s a bit optimistic to believe there will be widespread vaccine availability by next spring, but as long as vaccine developments remain on track, she expects to have enough vaccine to start holding some community vaccination clinics by summer.

“We have to do everything in our power to get to that point,” she said.

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