From testing to traveling, here's what America's top doc has to say about family gatherings.

By Karla Walsh
October 20, 2020
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Proceed with caution seems to be Dr. Anthony Fauci's advice as we look ahead to holiday season.

The most famous M.D. of 2020—who has been the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases since 1984 and has been a key member of the White House coronavirus task force—has been making the media rounds answering a slew of FAQs from journalists and viewers. Of course, a COVID-19 vaccine, kids returning to school and President Donald Trump's recovery from the virus have been hot topics, but many of the most pressing questions appear to be related to the upcoming holiday season.

By the time Thanksgiving dinner rolls around, we'll be more than eight months into some form of interrupted daily life due to the pandemic. Even though you might be growing tired of the virus and its impacts, it's no time to let down your inhibitions, Fauci believes.

"When you have people coming in from out of town gathering in an indoor setting ... it's such a sacred part of American tradition—the family gathering around Thanksgiving—but that is a risk," Fauci told Norah O'Donnell on an interview with CBS Evening News on October 14.

Here are five safety tips we've gathered from Fauci's recent interviews to help keep you and your loved ones as safe as possible as we look ahead to Thanksgiving, Hanukkah, Christmas and more.

Dr. Fauci's Tips for Celebrating the Holidays in a Safe Way During the Coronavirus Pandemic

1. Go small-scale or go virtual.

"Be very careful and prudent about social gatherings, particularly when members of the family might be at a risk because of their age or underlying condition," Fauci told CBS Evening News. "You may have to bite the bullet and sacrifice the social gathering unless you're pretty certain that the people that you're dealing with are not infected ... either they've been very recently tested or they're living a lifestyle in which they don't have an interaction with anyone but you and your family." As he explained this, Dr. Fauci pointed to his relationship with his wife, Dr. Christine Grady. The duo only socializes with each other and no one else.

2. Don't assume that just because you feel OK you are OK.

While explaining this on CBS Evening News, Fauci referred to nationwide observation reports from his fellow coronavirus task force member, Dr. Deborah Birx. Those reports discovered that family members are spreading the coronavirus to each other more often than at the beginning of the pandemic.

"Household transmission is assuming a greater element of the transmissibility," Fauci said. And since researchers are learning that about 1 in 5 people who become infected with the coronavirus are asymptomatic, it can be a big challenge to know if you might be at risk for spreading the virus to someone who may experience more severe symptoms or complications. (Say, someone with any of these high-risk medical conditions pointed out by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.)

3. Travel early.

If you do decide to gather in person, follow the CDC's safer holiday travel tips: Drive and don't stop along the way; then, after arriving, quarantine at a separate dwelling (such as a no-contact Airbnb) for at least five days (the median time it takes to test positive). Then get tested before gathering IRL with your family.

4. Keep things small.

"When people do things in crowds without masks—particularly indoors—it's just asking for trouble. We know without a doubt that those are the events that have spreading among people. It isn't as if we haven't been there before. We know that's trouble. It just seems obvious you've got to avoid that," Fauci said in the interview with CBS Evening News.

(Check out one poignant example of this in our story about a coronavirus survivor who spoke out after hosting a gathering that infected 14 and killed 2 family members.) So only invite a small crew that can stay safely spaced at least 6 feet apart in the event of any congregating.

5. Speaking of masks, wear one with anyone outside of your household—even relatives.

At the beginning of the pandemic, Fauci wasn't a huge proponent of masks, fearing that there might be a shortage for health care workers. But just one month later, Fauci reversed his stance, once he learned that masks—even the cloth face masks you can buy or make—help prevent infection.

"When you find out you're wrong, it's a manifestation of your honesty to say, 'Hey, I was wrong. I did subsequent experiments and now it's this way,'" Fauci said during a 60 Minutes segment that aired on October 18. So in case you're looking for his final answer, it's wear a mask—even with your family—each and every time you're sharing space with anyone outside of your household and especially anytime you're inside. (That is, when you're not eating or drinking.)

While not seeing family might feel like a tough pill to swallow, those are some sage doctor's orders as turkey time inches closer and closer.

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