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RSV, COVID, flu in CA: Is it safe to gather on Thanksgiving?

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RSV, COVID, flu in CA: Is it safe to gather on Thanksgiving?

The Sacramento Bee asked Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious disease at UC Davis, questions about handling the spread of these illnesses during Thanksgiving gatherings. ​


With the holidays right around the corner and an uptick in illnesses this season, gathering around the dinner table this Thanksgiving could be tricky.

In California, the number of positive RSV tests are higher than last year. The respiratory infection affects mostly children and older people. COVID-19 and the flu are also on the rise. As of Friday, California is averaging 3,531 new COVID-19 cases per day, according to the state.

This year’s flu season has also been of concern for health care professionals, particularly because flu cases dropped in the height of COVID-19 when people were social distancing.

The Sacramento Bee asked Dean Blumberg, chief of pediatric infectious disease at UC Davis, questions about handling the spread of these illnesses during Thanksgiving gatherings.

“A lot of the preventative measures are similar” for RSV, COVID and the flu, Blumberg said.

Here’s a Q&A with Blumberg:

The following has been edited for clarity.

What are your tips for those traveling to holiday gatherings?

Blumberg: I think the most important thing that people can do to keep themselves healthy, is to make sure that they’re fully up-to-date for all the vaccines that are indicated for them. Including the yearly influenza vaccine as well as COVID vaccine — all the doses and boosters for which they’re eligible.

Should you wear a mask on a plane?

Blumberg: I’m astounded when I’ve flown recently that I’ve been one of the few people wearing a mask and you’re in very close proximity to people [who] you don’t know what their risk factors are. You’re around them for hours on the airplane. And so I do strongly recommend masking. That’s the second most important thing that you can do, and I do recommend for that prolonged close contact with people outside your household to up you mask game, instead of wearing a standard surgical mask or cloth face covering to wear a N95 or KN95.

What are some tips to make Thanksgiving dinner safer for people?

Blumberg: Well, let’s start before dinner. I think it’s really nice for somebody to take the lead in terms of making sure that everybody’s on the same page with expectations.

Usually that’s the hostess or the host to say they they’re looking forward to the gathering. But of course, if anybody’s sick, you know, you would hope that they would do the responsible thing and not show up. And then I’m aware that this year for many gatherings people are asking people to test either right before coming over, withing 24 hours of Thanksgiving, and in case anybody is asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, that they would be excluded so that Thanksgiving dinner doesn’t become a super spreader event.

Is it safe to hug and kiss loved ones?

Blumberg: You know, there’s a couple of different ways to approach it. One would be to just go back and say listen, if everybody’s healthy, if people are vaccinated, if people have tested negative — then go ahead and be close to people without masking you know.

People aren’t going to mask during the meal anyway, because they’re eating and [also] hug and kiss. So I think that’s what most people will feel most comfortable with. I think in this age where there’s so many preventative measures available, I think most people are not doing what we’ve done pre-vaccine. Which was having the outdoor meals, or distancing while socializing. People now are returning to normal. I think that’s reasonable, especially for those who aren’t at risk of severe disease, or they are at risk but they’ve taken the appropriate preventative measures.

Is it safe to do potluck or buffet style dinner?

Blumberg: In general, I don’t worry about buffet style or potluck dinner type of a situation. None of these respiratory infections are transmitted by food.

Out of COVID, influenza and RSV, the one that’s more likely to be transmitted by touch is likely RSV. So there is potential that serving utensil could get contaminated and somebody touches a serving spoon or fork and then they rub their eye or something without washing their hands, that they could transmit it that way. So if people want to be extra careful, after touching communal utensils, they can discreetly pull out their alcohol and hand gel, their small container in their pocket or their purse, and sanitize their hands. That an extra layer of protection.

Is there anything else that you would want to add?

Blumberg: Although the primary preventative measures are vaccination and masking, hand washing is also good because that does help prevent RSV which can be transmitted on surfaces.

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RSV, COVID, flu in CA: Is it safe to gather on Thanksgiving?

Jacqueline Pinedo is a reporter on The Bee’s service journalism team. She previously interned at the Los Angeles Times and completed her master’s degree at the University of Southern California.