While North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen has repeatedly said social gatherings are driving the current spike in COVID-19 cases, she said she understood that North Carolinians need to surround themselves with family and friends.
"I know folks want and need to be together during the holidays," Cohen said during a news conference last week. "If you do decide to host or attend a holiday gathering, there are ways to do it as safely as possible."
Monday, NCDHHS released guidelines for Thanksgiving and Black Friday to keep North Carolinians safe. Most importantly, health officials advised being particularly careful around family members or friends at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19, including those 65 years old or older and those with underlying health conditions.
Additionally, officials said if you have tested positive for COVID-19, have COVID-19 symptoms, or have been around someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, you should not host or participate in an in-person gathering until you have quarantined or isolated for the necessary amount of time.
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Before the event
If you plan to travel during the holidays or attend a gathering with people who do not live in your immediate household, NCDHHS recommends getting a COVID-19 test at least three or four days before the event.
"If you test positive, stay home and isolate," Cohen said during the news conference. "If you test negative, it's not a free pass." Cohen reminded North Carolinians that a negative test is only a point in time and does not mean that you cannot catch the virus. She emphasized the need to wear a mask, stay socially distant and wash hands often, even after a negative test.
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Additionally, health officials said some tests, particularly rapid tests, may miss some infections, and a person could be contagious without displaying symptoms. Wearing a mask limits the spread of virus between people.
Health officials recommended asking all guests to quarantine for 14 days before the event--minimizing the risk of exposure. If a guest has been exposed to COVID-19 or has had symptoms in the last 14 days, hosts should ask them to stay home.
Hosts should clean and disinfect surfaces such as door handles, sinks, countertops and cooking surfaces before guests come over and frequently throughout the event.
While the current limit for indoor gatherings in North Carolina is 25 people, NCDHHS recommends keeping events as small as possible and ensuring guests can distance throughout the event, particularly during the meal when guests will have to remove their face coverings.
On the day before the event, health officials said all guests and hosts should screen themselves for COVID-19 symptoms and stay home if they feel unwell.
Day of the Event
On Thanksgiving, host the event outdoors if possible. If the event must be held indoors, open windows and doors to increase ventilation.
Hosts should space guests who do not live in the same household six feet apart from one another, though people who live together can sit closer. All attendees should wear face coverings when not eating or drinking, wash hands frequently and stay socially distant from others.
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Guests should not congregate around the food, rather, health officials recommend having one household serve themselves at a time. Additionally, NCDHHS recommends limiting the number of people walking in and out of areas where food is being prepared. Have one person serve the food to limit the number of people touching common utensils, use single-use items when possible, and disinfecting wipes available to clean off serving utensils between people.
While the act of racing into a super store at dawn may be a time-honored family tradition, NCDHHS encouraged North Carolinians to avoid gathering outside stores or spending long periods of time in crowded stores.
Health officials recommended checking store policies to see whether customers can shop online or utilize curbside pick-up instead of going into a store.
If you do need to go into a store, officials advised finding off-peak hours to shop with fewer people around, and of course wearing a face covering in compliance with North Carolina's mask mandate. Customers should also use hand sanitizer before and after entering a store.
Officials also recommended making a list before shopping to avoid unnecessary browsing and touching multiple items you don't intend to buy. Additionally, choose stores that do not have seasonal attractions, such as tree-lighting ceremonies or Santa visits, as these events tend to draw crowds.
Again, if you have recently been diagnosed with COVID-19, have symptoms of COVID-19, or have come into contact with someone diagnosed with COVID-19, do not shop in person and instead isolate or quarantine.