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Kansas City Health Experts Say Holiday Celebrations Are Prime Spreading Opportunities For The Coronavirus

Local doctors say Kansas Citians can participate in Thanksgiving traditions even while physically apart, like sharing a family dinner virtually.
Photo Illustration-Carlos Moreno/KCUR 89.3
Local doctors say Kansas Citians can participate in Thanksgiving traditions even while physically apart, like sharing a family dinner virtually.

Health experts across Kansas City are asking people to skip large family gatherings this year as COVID-19 cases surge across the metro.

Area doctors and health experts are asking Kansas Citians to reconsider their winter holiday traditions as the number of COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to rise.

Comeback KC, a collaboration between local businesses and government leaders aiming to help the metro during its COVID-19 recovery, is giving advice to those still wanting to celebrate Thanksgiving with their loved ones.

“The COVID-19 pandemic is just out of control in our region right now," said Mark Logan, Comeback KC communications director. "We are seeing the highest levels of community spread that we've seen all year, so the challenge is that a lot of our holiday traditions would also make for prime spreading opportunities.”

Staying home with immediate family may be the safest way to celebrate, but local experts say there are steps people can take to celebrate safely with others.

Avoid Traveling if Possible

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has already recommended people postpone traveling this holiday season.

Dr. Kathleen Eubanks-Meng, practicing family physician at Summit Family and Sports Medicine in Lee’s Summit, says she and other doctors are also asking people to stay home this week.

“We're very concerned about people getting together with people that live outside of their household and that becomes a big concern that they're going to get together and share food and do all these wonderful things. However, in healthcare, we're at a breaking point right now,” said Eubanks-Meng.

Still, some people are choosing to travel.

For those who aren’t able to stay local, Eubanks-Meng recommends that they travel by car instead of by plane to their destination. This way, she says they’ll have more control over their interactions with others.

“If it's a drivable place to go, with the same members of your household, that's the best way to go. Some people that do have to travel, just consider what those travel restrictions are before you go and make sure you have your flu shots,” said Eubanks-Meng.

If using public transportation at your destination, she recommends wearing a mask and following the same social distancing guidelines you would follow in your own city.

Keep Gatherings Small and Safe

Even if you stay local, there is still a risk of spreading the virus. Health experts recommend keeping groups less than 10 people.

“It's not just a question of exposure to the people who may be gathered around the Thanksgiving table. It's exposure to everyone they interact with then in the next two weeks and everyone that those people interact with,” said Logan.

If the weather permits, the safest way to hold a Thanksgiving dinner is outdoors. Otherwise, Eubanks-Meng says there are precautions that can be taken to minimize the spread indoors.

“Keep those tables six feet apart, and bring your own utensils. If you're going to have a shared meal, please don't have multiple hands touching the food. Only have one person serving who's wearing a mask,” said Eubanks-Meng.

If you're going to go back and have another serving of food, she suggests using another plate or a disposable one to prevent cross contamination.

Get Creative with holiday traditions

Experts acknowledge that for many, not being able to celebrate holidays like normal can take a toll on what has already been an emotionally-draining year.

Katie Kriegshauser, Director of the Kansas City Center for Anxiety Treatment, said one way to help is to think about parts of the holidays you value most and find a way to still celebrate them.

“So is it talking to that cousin, you only see once a year that really makes you happy? And if so, schedule a phone call with them. Is it having that comfort food of those cranberries are what you love or pumpkin pie, then go for that comfort food,” said Kriegshauser.

Kriegshauser also recommends finding alternatives to celebrating with family in person, like opting for virtual parties or meeting one-on-one with people throughout the month.

Logan says it's hard to accept this holiday season won’t be like years past, but it's important to remember that it's only temporary.

“We all want to get together, give hugs, be with our families and loved ones, but we just have to recognize that this year we can't do it. We have every reason to believe that by the time the holidays roll around next year we will be able to get together safely if people have been vaccinated,” says Logan.

More than ever, education lies at the intersection of equity, housing, funding, and other diverse issues facing Kansas City’s students, families and teachers. As KCUR’s education reporter, I’ll break down the policies driving these issues in schools and report what’s happening in our region's classrooms. You can reach me at jodifortino@kcur.org.
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