One-third of parents believe the benefits of gathering the family together for Thanksgiving is worth the risk of catching or spreading COVID-19, according to a new poll published Monday.
That's despite the fact that nine out of 10 parents said grandparents -- one of the highest-risk groups for severe infections -- were typically at their Thanksgiving gathering. Polling results were based on responses from nearly 1,500 nationally representative parents with at least one child age 12 or under.
"Our report suggests that while many children have spent less time with relatives during the pandemic, some parents may have a hard time foregoing holiday gatherings in order to reduce COVID-19 risks," said Sarah Clark, co-director of the C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health at Michigan Medicine.
"We all know that large public gatherings carry great risks of spreading COVID-19. But small and casual social gatherings where people feel most 'safe' are also part of what has been fueling transmission," Clark said in a statement.
Over half of parents felt it was "very important" that children were allowed to see extended family and share in family holiday traditions, and said their children had been more isolated from grandparents and other extended family since the pandemic began.
Pandemic fatigue may be part of the reason why 61% of families who traditionally meet in person at the holidays plan to do so again this Thanksgiving, Clark said.
As Americans get ready to celebrate this cherished holiday, the nation is setting grim milestones in the struggle against the novel coronavirus.
More than a quarter of a million Americans have died of COVID-19, and the latest forecast predicts 471,000 Americans will die from the virus by March. The death toll is being driven by a massive spike in COVID-19 infections across the country.
"The record-shattering surge underway is resulting in uncontrolled community spread and infection that has already overburdened health systems in some areas and will ultimately consume capacity of our health care system and may reduce the availability of care in many places in our country," warned three US medical and health organizations in a statement released last week.
The American Medical Association, American Hospital Association and the American Nurses Association joined many other health experts in urging Americans to scale back on traditional gatherings to stop the spread of Covid-19.
"We -- the physicians, nurses, hospital and health system leaders and public health professionals on the front lines of this pandemic -- strongly urge everyone throughout our country to celebrate responsibly, in a scaled-back fashion that limits the virus's spread, to help reduce the risk of infecting friends, family and others you love."
Last week, the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention also urged Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving, and to celebrate only with members of their own households.
"What is at stake is the increased chance of one of your loved ones becoming sick and then being hospitalized and dying around the holidays," said Dr. Henry Walke, who directs the CDC's Division of Preparedness and Emerging Infections.
Even children returning from college and enlisted family members returning for the holiday should be treated as high-risk carriers of the virus, said Erin Sauber-Schatz, lead of the CDC's Community Intervention and Critical Population Task Force.
"People who have not been living in your household for the 14 days before you are celebrating should not be considered members of your household, and so you should take those extra precautions, even wearing masks within your own home," said Sauber-Schatz.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, urged Americans to consider the extremely high risks of infecting the most vulnerable.
"You take a look at your family and you say, 'Do I have a person there who's an elderly person, a person with an underlying medical condition that might put them at an increased risk of a severe outcome if they get affected? Do I want to take that risk right now?'" the infectious disease expert told CNN's Chris Cuomo Thursday.
Some families will take safety precautions
The Mott poll did find that some parents planned to take extra precautions suggested by health experts during their Thanksgiving celebrations.
Only 18% of parents in the poll planned to involve persons traveling from out of state.
Three-quarters said they will try to limit contact between their child and high-risk guests, including senior grandparents and people with medical conditions, while two-thirds of parents will ask guests to maintain social distancing.
Those best-laid intentions may be difficult to enforce with small children, Clark warned.
"It may be difficult to maintain distance between children and high risk adults throughout a multi-day visit or even during a lengthy dinner," she said.
Clark recommended talking with children in advance about the importance of wearing masks, social distancing and keeping their voices down, as singing or yelling sends more virus into the air than simply speaking.
Still, "parents should be realistic about how feasible it will be to limit contact and think carefully about whether to gather in person with high-risk family members," Clark said.
"The prudent thing to do for now is to just pull back and just keep it within the family unit that you live with instead of having people from the outside come in."
Poll: 1 in 3 parents say family holiday gatherings worth the risk of catching, spreading COVID-19