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Doctor: Thanksgiving Might Be A ‘Superspreader Event’

Intermountain Healthcare officials warned regardless of holiday precautions, the COVID-19 surge will continue for the next few weeks. (KSL TV)

MURRAY, Utah – As COVID-19 deaths and hospitalizations keep climbing, infectious disease doctors fear Thanksgiving could be a superspreader event.

If that happens, one doctor with Intermountain Healthcare said December will be even direr.

“This moment in time, Thanksgiving is going to be absolutely critical in terms of the health of our health care systems across the state,” said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious disease physician with Intermountain Healthcare.

COVID-19 hospitalizations in Utah have nearly doubled in the last month, and they are five times what they were two months ago. Doctors at Intermountain Healthcare believe that will continue if Utahns are not extremely cautious this holiday weekend.

Utah hospitals saw surges in COVID-19 after each holiday during the pandemic, according to Stenehjem. Thanksgiving is mainly indoors, which makes it even riskier.

“Regardless of what happens to our cases today, tomorrow, or the next day … forecasting ahead, we will continue to see a surge of patients in our hospitals through early December at a minimum,” Stenehjem said.

They are seeing high transmission of the virus in nearly every county in the state.

“Our level of community transmission of COVID-19 is so high that we continue to recommend that you not gather outside of your family that lives in your home,” said Stenehjem.

Any gathering, he said, no matter how small, increases the risk of transmission — even gatherings of less than 10 people, if they are with people from outside our homes.

“We feel Thanksgiving might be what we call a superspreader event,” he said. “We’re going to see many people get together with family and friends and that will increase our case counts in the next seven to 10 days, which will further drive hospitalizations to a point that we cannot tolerate.”

Increased hospitalizations Wednesday lead to increased deaths next week. The ICUs are full. The health care staff is exhausted, and they are hiring more nurses and moving other health care workers around to meet their needs.

“Our health care workers are tired, and they are fatigued,” said Stenehjem. “But they are continuing to fight the good fight.”

Again, health care providers are pleading with the public to do the right things, so that our loved ones can get the care and resources they need when they need help.

“Our biggest resource limitation is not our beds. Our biggest resource limitation is our caregivers,” said Stenehjem. “Beds don’t care for people. Caregivers care for people.”

Coronavirus Resources

Have you or a family member been affected by coronavirus issues in Utah? KSL wants to hear from you. Contact KSL by emailing social@ksl.com.

What is COVID-19? Here’s What You Need To Know To Stay Healthy

The latest coronavirus stories from KSL can be found here.

Your Life Your Health: How parents can prepare their home, children against coronavirus.

How do I prevent it?

The CDC has some simple recommendations, most of which are the same for preventing other respiratory illnesses or the flu:

  • Avoid close contact with people who may be sick
  • Avoid touching your face
  • Stay home when you are sick
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue and then throw the tissue in the trash
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom, before eating, and after blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing. Always wash your hands with soap and water if your hands are visibly dirty.
  • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.

The CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings where other social distancing measures are difficult to maintain (e.g., grocery stores and pharmacies), especially in areas of significant community-based transmission.

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