Ottawa·Analysis

Why we should follow the COVID-19 Thanksgiving advice

In the 63 years since Parliament proclaimed the second Monday of October as our traditional day of gratitude, there has possibly never been a more fraught Thanksgiving than this one. The advice to keep the holiday among your household this year is just that — advice. Here's what you can, can't and, most importantly, should do.

Between rules and recommendations falls the tricky business of personal judgment and responsibility

Public health officials are pleading with us to skip the extended family and friends Thanksgiving this year. (Credit: iStock/Getty Images)

In the 63 years since Parliament proclaimed the second Monday of October as our traditional day of gratitude, there has possibly never been a more fraught Thanksgiving than this one.

Politicians and public health officials are telling us to huddle around the bird just with the people under our own roof — although it took days for some to agree on the definition of "household."

 

But earlier this week, Premier Doug Ford was crystal clear: "That means sitting down to dinner only with the people you live with."

Yet, while we've finally nailed down what a household is, officials have also asked us to keep our gatherings "as small as possible."

The fact is, we're not legally required to have a household-only Thanksgiving this year.  

We're not seeing the curve slow down.- Dr. Brent Moloughney, associate medical officer of health

The provincial regulations stipulate that, for private gatherings, we can have 10 people indoors, and 25 outside, provided people can keep two metres apart or wear masks indoors (although the distancing part of these rules is pretty difficult to enforce).

The recent recommendation to keep to ourselves — muddled from the start — has been growing in urgency with every passing day as COVID-19 numbers worsen. Still, it is simply that: a recommendation. We are grown-ups, and it's up to us whether we follow the advice.

Here's why we should.

Situation critical 

When deciding whether to go out from under your own roof for Thanksgiving dinner, the number one thing to keep in mind is that the COVID-19 situation in Ottawa is critical, as Ottawa Public Health (OPH) officials reiterated Thursday.

Thursday saw yet another record number of new cases — a whopping 183, with another person dead and four more in hospital — a dangerous trend that, if it continues, could overwhelm our health care system, which is already under strain from pandemic-related issues, such as testing.

And as the volume of cases rises, COVID-19 will be introduced into daycares, schools and long-term care homes, where the virus causes the deathly harm, Dr. Brent Moloughney, Ottawa's associate officer of health, told reporters Thursday.

An increase in the community spread of COVID-19 means the virus gets introduced to daycares, schools and long-term care homes, where it can be deadly. (Justin Tang/Canadian Press)

"We are not seeing the curve slow down," he said. 

"Please don't think your individual actions don't matter — they really, really do. No one wants schools or businesses to close. It would have a detrimental impact on the financial and mental health of our community. Closures are the last resort. But if we continue down this path, it may have to come to that, as we've seen in other jurisdictions."

Holiday spikes

It may seem incongruous to some that restaurant, bars and banquet halls — which can have as many as 100 clients indoors — can remain open (at least for now), while you're told not to have your relatives over for pumpkin pie.

While OPH doesn't know where about half the new cases of COVID-19 originated, in the instances where the source is known, a significant portion come from private events, not commercial venues, including a recent wedding that resulted in hundreds of people having to self-isolate.

 

Indeed, after holiday long weekends, like Easter and Labour Day, we've seen spikes in coronavirus cases, generally originating from social gatherings.

And speaking of holidays, everyone from the prime minister on down has warned that we need to tamp down this rapidly rising second wave — particularly in hotspots like Ottawa — if we have any chance of celebrating Christmas or Hanukkah or Kwanzaa with extended loved ones in a couple of months. 

(Ottawa Public Health)

Abundance of caution

And while experts are quick to say that the lowest risk plan is to stick with the folks under your own roof, they say there are exceptions. Some people's mental health may depend on socializing. As well, officials have said a single person can join a family, or several individuals can band together to form their own de facto household.

Think hard about inviting older people, or those with other health risks, if you have children who've been attending school in person, say experts. (-)

Dr. Vivek Goel, a professor at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, and a member of the federal COVID-19 task force, says people need to weigh all the factors carefully.

Are you inviting people who are at higher risk of becoming gravely ill if they contract coronavirus? Are they people that you trust to have been following the rules and taking all the recommended precautions?

"Because whoever comes in, you've got the risk that you're going to get exposed to all of their close contacts in the last two weeks," said Goel.

Schools have put in place COVID-19 related regimens, but it's unlikely young children are keeping two metres apart at recess. (Bobby Hristova/CBC)

Have children in school?

"I would think very carefully about a gathering where you're going to have people that might be older getting exposed to those kids, or people with pre-existing health conditions that put them at high risk," Goel told CBC. "Especially if they're young kids —you and I both know that they won't have been two metres apart through all of recess."

Wearing masks indoors can help protect guests, but, Goel points out, at some point people have to take them off to eat. "And maybe you're not going to tell your uncle not to come too close."

If you do end up inviting others, it should just be one family or a couple — not multiple households coming together — ideally, people that you have been bubbled with for some time.

"Don't go to a house that you don't typically go into," Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist and associate professor of health sciences at the University of Ottawa, told CBC Radio's Ottawa Morning Thursday.

Only one guarantee of safety

While socializing outdoors is generally safer than inside, provided that people keep two metres apart, there are no guarantees of absolute safety. 

Deonandan points out that we have a choice this Thanksgiving. After all, he says, we're all adults and no one would want these recommendations to become laws.

"But if you have the option not to go, then err on the side of caution. Everything has some risk associated with it, except not going in the first place."

 

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