'We have to do this smartly': Experts weigh in on keeping COVID away from Thanksgiving

RALEIGH, N .C. (WTVD) -- We can all agree things are a lot better this Thanksgiving compared to last year when so many of us were still locked down and skipping holiday celebrations.

This year is shaping up to look a lot more like 2019. But experts warn not to lose sight of reducing our risk for COVID-19.

Thanksgiving 2020 in the Triangle was a picture of long lines of cars at drive-thru COVID testing sites --people anxious to get a test before holiday travel. This year, 80 percent of the nation, people 12 and older, are at least partially vaccinated. And more than half the nation plans to gather for Thanksgiving in groups of 10 or more, according to a new survey by Kaiser Family Foundation.

UNC infectious disease expert Dr. David Wohl is advising his patients to celebrate with loved ones. But, still, be mindful of the risks. He's reminding them the biggest risk to us all is unvaccinated people.

"I'm all for gathering around with people, I get it. We've been longing to do this for a long time, you have to do this smartly," Dr. Wohl said.



Another smart thing to do is get a booster before a gathering. COVID-19 booster shots are now approved for anyone 18 or older whose second Moderna or Pfizer shot was six months ago or it's been two months since a Johnson & Johnson vaccine. Two booster shot clinics are now open in Orange County.

"One (clinic) you can just show up and get a shot. And one is we're requesting appointments," said Orange County Community Relations Director Todd McGee. "But yeah, we've got the booster shots. We're available for anybody who needs it."

An estimated 53 million Americans are expected to hit the road this week. Dr. Wohl's advice: buy a few of those quick COVID tests from the pharmacy for the trip; test yourself the day you plan to gather in a group.

"The day of is great because it only takes about 15 minutes to do the tests. They're not perfect. And they're not like the deep PCR tests that we do at our drive-thru here. But they're better than nothing," Wohl said. "If you can afford to buy a ticket on a plane, you can afford to buy these tests. Bring them with you. Do them. This is just a way to lower the risk."

Holiday gathering factors for all of us to consider include guests who are unvaccinated; children younger than 5 who can't be vaccinated yet -- but have smaller risks of transmitting the virus; and older people who may be vaccinated but are still more vulnerable. None of the things experts are advising eliminate all of the risks. But, Wohl says, it's about lowering the risk to where you feel comfortable.
Copyright © 2021 WTVD-TV. All Rights Reserved.