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How to have a safer Thanksgiving during the coronavirus pandemic

DHEC officials say people should avoid gatherings with people from multiple households so they can protect their family and other people in the community.

COLUMBIA, S.C. — Health officials from the South Carolina Department of Health and Environmental Control (DHEC) are giving safety tips as people look to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday.

One of the traditions that come along with the holidays is family gatherings. Due to the coronavirus pandemic, it's forcing people to think of different ways to celebrate the holidays safely.

Dr. Brannon Traxler, the interim Director of Public Health at DHEC, wants people to be extra cautious so people can protect their loved ones during the holiday season.

"With Thanksgiving coming up, we know that it's part of southern culture, I think a lot of us in South Carolina are used to having the big holiday gatherings, getting together with our family and friends and all eating a good meal, but these are the situations where COVID-19 can really be spread fairly easily," said Dr. Traxler.

The interim director says if someone is traveling or are planning on attending a gathering, they should get tested for the coronavirus before they go. People should get tested several days beforehand so they can get their results in time.

"Really those two weeks before you attend any group gathering, you really need to be very cautious in your activities, making sure to avoid places where you might get exposed to the virus," explained Dr. Traxler. "We really just encourage to decrease the number of households that are gathering, the number of different households that are gathering for holidays."

Health officials are also encouraging college students to get tested for COVID-19 before heading home for the holidays.

One idea Dr. Traxler thinks people should entertain this year is using video-meeting platforms.

If families plan on having a gathering with people from different households, people should be spaced out. This means at least six feet between each person.

People should also be wearing a mask unless they are actively eating or drinking.

"One nice thing about South Carolina is the weather is often good, it's often warm enough that time of year where we can have our dinners outdoors even," said Dr. Traxler.

Recently, the Palmetto State has seen an increase in the amount of daily coronavirus cases. As the weather continues to get colder, more people are gathering indoors and contributing to the increase of COVID-19 cases.

"We see what's happening in other places in the country, we have a little bit of an advantage with it still being warmer here where we can see what's happening elsewhere where it's already getting colder," said Dr. Traxler. "We want to prevent that from happening here."

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It's also flu season, so the interim director wants to remind people that getting a flu shot this year is important. Hospital systems could be overwhelmed if there is a big increase in both coronavirus and flu cases.

There's been some discussion in the public about cancelling holiday activities all together. Dr. Traxler believes small gatherings are still possible as long as it's done in a smart way.

"We don't want to see a bunch of different households gathering together in-person, but within your household or just a couple of households together, if you do it smartly and do it safely, then that would be acceptable," explained Dr. Traxler.

Health officials believe what happens during Thanksgiving could impact the pandemic situation heading into Christmas.

"We'll see the effects of Thanksgiving, which hopefully there won't be any or it will be very minimal, within a couple of weeks after Thanksgiving and that's right when people are making their Christmas plans," said Dr. Traxler.

While this holiday season may not be ideal, the interim director believes people need to do their part to help protect families and the community.

"We understand. We all have families and friends too. We all want to get together with our loved ones, especially this year, because it has been a rough year," explained Dr. Traxler. "Many of us haven't had opportunities to gather with more extended family at all really in almost a year, but we encourage people, we see a little light at the end of the tunnel with the vaccine coming out. This is the time to double down on our efforts."

For more information from SCDHEC on how to celebrate Thanksgiving safely, click here.

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