The Thanksgiving holiday is fast approaching, but in light of large increases in the number of state COVID-19 cases, officials with the Arkansas Center for Health Improvement (ACHI) are urging caution in celebrating the holiday.

“People are concerned about transmission of COVID,” said Dr. Joe Thompson, president and CEO of ACHI in a Thursday afternoon ZOOM conference. “So there are prevention strategies that can be employed.”

The coronavirus threat, he said, is magnified by the fact that more than half of all Arkansans have chronic health conditions that increase the risk posed by the disease. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), these include heart conditions, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), obesity, weakened immune systems, cancer and chronic kidney disease among other conditions. The threat can become even greater during holiday gatherings, like Thanksgiving.

The prevention strategies developed by ACHI, added board chairman Ray Montgomery, are a combination of science-based information and common sense. What can happen, he said, is that loved ones come to one’s home to celebrate, followed a week later by people developing the illness. “We want people to be safe,” he said. “Give thanks, not COVID.”

“We’re not asking you to forego Thanksgiving,” added Thompson, “just to safeguard your families.”

He suggested limiting gatherings to family members of a single household only.

“Don’t bring a number of households together,” Thompson said. “Everyone can connect electronically.”

According to information available at the achi.org website, those planning to gather for Thanksgiving should communicate with everyone else planning to attend no later than Nov. 14 (i.e. today) to discuss risk reduction and management strategies, commit to safeguard each other, and establish a plan. If there is no agreement, people should consider not participating.

In addition, beginning today, those planning to attend a Thanksgiving gathering should eliminate unnecessary shopping, minimize participation in gatherings and other social activities, and cease visits to bars, restaurants, and other places of exposure to the public.

“The Monday before Thanksgiving,” said Thompson, “you should get tested.” Those testing positive, of course, should not attend.

The Arkansas Center for Health Improvement also offers a 10-step plan to reduce risk:

1. Limit gatherings to 10 or fewer, if possible.

2. Anyone with cold-like symptoms (fever, cough, headache, loss of taste) should not attend.

3. Safeguard individuals with:

Immunocompromised (e.g. on chemotherapy, high dose steroids)

Kidney failure

Congestive heart failure

Diabetes

Dementia

COPD

Mental illness

Asthma

Coronary heart disease

Obesity

4. Gather and eat outdoors if weather permits. If gathering indoors, open windows (use a heater if necessary) and turn on vent hoods to increase ventilation.

5. Do not share serving utensils. Designate one person to serve the group while wearing a mask and gloves.

6. Limit the length of the event.

7. Maintain distance as much as possible and avoid close personal contact.

8. Wear masks when not eating/drinking.

9. Sanitize/wash hands frequently.

10. For those staying overnight, maximize outdoor time, maintain social distance, and wear masks throughout the visit.

Underscoring the threat, Thompson noted a dramatic increase in COVID cases over the past three weeks in the state.

“Three weeks ago, there were one to two cases per 1,000,” he said, “but now it’s four to six per 1,000.”

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