Staying healthy this Thanksgiving as cases of flu, RSV, and Covid spread

The Thanksgiving holiday comes as cases of flu and RSV continue to spread across the U.S.

ByJoe Torres and and the Eyewitness News team WABC logo
Monday, November 20, 2023
Staying healthy this Thanksgiving
Joe Torres has the latest on staying healthy during the Holiday season.

YONKERS, New York (WABC) -- Tight spaces and packed crowds apparently weren't a concern for shoppers on Monday at the Stew Leonard's in Yonkers.

But those are the exact conditions that worry doctors and emergency room workers who fear the close quarters of sold-out flights, supermarket check-out lines and family get-togethers this week will certainly lead to a spike in cases of RSV, the flu and even Covid.

"For those who are youngest, those who are oldest, those with underlying conditions, a flu infection can be especially deadly," Dr. John Brownstein, ABC News Contributor, said.

"I just came from my doctor's appointment today. And he said to make sure that I wear my mask, get the RSV shot and get my pneumonia shot. So that's what I'm doing," Denise Billups of Riverdale said.

Nationwide, emergency room visits from the flu, Covid and RSV are all up.

Across New York State, the most recent figures show a 72-percent increase in the number of people who went to the hospital with confirmed cases of the flu.

Back in Yonkers, we saw people wearing masks. Others came armed with sanitizing wipes. And still others told us their Thanksgiving reunion will be low-key and small.

"I try to stay away from people. I'll send people out. I'll drive, but I'll send people out to do the shopping and I'll wear a mask. And I also have oxygen because I'm on oxygen and things like that," Steve Armstrong of Mount Vernon said.

ABC News spoke to public health experts who offered advice on how to have as safe of a holiday celebration as possible.

"We want to keep you safe during this holiday time period, if it's RSV, if it's flu, if it's COVID," Dr. Rebecca Weintraub, a physician and assistant professor in the department of global health and social medicine at Harvard Medical School, told ABC News. "All of the routine viruses are showing their muscle this season. They are ready and prepared, and we need to be just as prepared so that we can gather as much as possible in person with our loved ones."

Make sure you're up to date on your vaccines

The experts recommend before gathering being up to date on COVID-19 vaccines and flu shots.

For Americans aged 5 and older, they can receive the bivalent booster, which protects against BA.4 and BA.5, subvariants of the original omicron variant. For those under age 5, only the primary vaccine series is available.

For the flu, the CDC recommends everyone over 6 months old get vaccinated. If a child is aged 8 or younger and has never received a flu vaccine dose better, they should consider getting two doses.

Weintraub suggested if anyone is gathering with unvaccinated people to spend time outside, which reduces the risk of transmission.

Consider getting a rapid test before gathering

Before attending a Thanksgiving gathering, the experts recommend that Americans consider taking a rapid test.

Rapid at-home tests are also known as antigen tests. They look for antigens, or proteins from the coronavirus, which are different than polymerase chain reaction (PCR) tests that look for genetic material from the virus.

Weintraub also recommended checking the expiration dates because the U.S. Food and Drug Administration extended the expiration dates for several brands of at-home tests.

Don't attend dinner if you feel sick

The experts recommend staying home if you have any symptoms including coughing, sore throat, sneezing, runny nose or fever.

This is because COVID, flu and RSV all predominantly spread the same way -- by coming into contact with respiratory droplets from the nose and throat of infected people that are expelled when they cough or sneeze.

Wear a mask indoors

Although the public appetite for mask wearing is low, experts recommend wearing masks in indoor crowded spaces before attending the event.

People can also consider wearing a mask during the holiday if they are near a high-risk individual.

Ventilation and handwashing

Experts recommend making sure that on the day of the event, the room is properly ventilated, and guests practice good handwashing, thoroughly with soap and water.

Ventilation can include opening doors and windows, if the weather isn't too cold, or buying air filters.


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