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CDC strongly recommends that people not travel for Thanksgiving

Cars lined up for drive-through coronavirus testing in Lawrence this week.
Cars lined up for drive-through coronavirus testing in Lawrence this week.David L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Citing the wave of coronavirus surging across the nation, US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention officials on Thursday advised people not to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday.

“It’s a strong recommendation,” said Dr. Henry Walke, COVID-19 Incident Manager for the agency.

“These times are tough,” said Walke. “It’s been a long outbreak, almost 11 months now, and people are tired and we understand that people want to see their relatives and friends in the way they’ve always done it. But this year, particularly, we’re asking people to be as safe as possible and limit their travel.”

He said officials were alarmed “with the exponential increase in cases, hospitalizations, and deaths.”

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He said the agency was updating its Thanksgiving guidance on its website and officials hoped to update the public more frequently in the future.

“We are in a tough time ... so we want to share as much as we can what we’re learning,” he said in a telephone news briefing.

The agency’s previous Thanksgiving guidance page, posted about a week ago, had included travel guidance as one of many tips.

The new guidance, updated around noon Thursday, moved travel advice to the top of the page, with a preamble saying, “More than 1 million COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States over the last 7 days. As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with. Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.”

“Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year,” it continued.

The new guidance then outlined detailed questions people should ask themselves before deciding to travel, including whether you or the people you’re visiting are vulnerable, whether the place you are traveling from or going to has a high number of cases, and whether the place you’re traveling from or going to has hospital capacity problems.

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Massachusetts officials, including Governor Charlie Baker and Mayor Martin J. Walsh, have also recently asked people to celebrate with only the people they live with.

The CDC guidance also included a host of recommendations for people who do decide to travel, as well as recommendations for people who attend gatherings and host gatherings. At the same time, it advised people to take general precautions, such as wearing masks, socially distancing, and washing their hands. It also suggested other Thanksgiving activities, ranging from online shopping and watching sports on TV to preparing traditional dishes and dropping them off for family and neighbors.

Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz, leader of the CDC’s Community Intervention and Critical Population Task Force, said in the briefing that the new guidance also clarified the meaning of “household” for people who had questions about whether college students were included. They’re not, she said.

“If people have not been actively living with you for the 14 days before you’re celebrating, they are not considered a member of your household, and therefore you need to take extra precaution, even wearing masks within your own home,” she said.

Walke said, “We know that ending 2020 with the holiday season spent more distant than together is not what we all want. Our hope is that the recommendations posted online today can help people celebrate as safely as possible. All Americans want to do the right thing to protect their families, even when there are hard decisions to be made. We all must do our best to protect those around us.”

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The deadly comeback by the virus has been blamed in part on pandemic fatigue, or people getting tired of masks and other precautions. Surges were seen last summer after Memorial Day and July, despite blunt warnings from health authorities. Experts are concerned Thanksgiving gatherings could intensify the current surge.

The United States has seen more than 11 million diagnosed infections and over 250,000 deaths from the coronavirus. CDC scientists believe that somewhere around 40% of people who are infected do not have obvious symptoms but can still spread the virus.

Material from The Associated Press was used in this report.


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.