The New York Times reported the current daily average of COVID-19 cases in Louisiana is up 250% from the average of two weeks ago. Amid this, many are left wondering if it's safe to travel and celebrate the approaching holidays.
"If you're looking at doing a typical Thanksgiving, you're making a mistake," Gov. John Bel Edwards said in a press conference Thursday.
Assistant State Health Officer for the Louisiana Department of Health Dr. Joseph Kanter echoed Edwards' sentiments about Thanksgiving travel and plans.
"Every major holiday is an opportunity for increased transmission as family and friends gather. We're really concerned about what the Thanksgiving holiday might do. It could not come at a more inopportune time for us," Kanter said.
"Recent increases in cases have been closely linked to informal gatherings such as small dinner parties because regulations usually aren't followed as closely during these events," Kanter added. "When people are with family and friends they let their guards down and they think they don't need the mitigation measures like masks and distancing, but it's a trap – because about 50% of people who are currently infected don't have symptoms. There's no difference in the likelihood that someone is infected or not because they're your cousin. It doesn't matter if they're friends or family."
The Louisiana Department of Health is encouraging families to only celebrate Thanksgiving within their household unit if possible and to discourage anyone from traveling from other parts of the country to visit. They also recommend holding any gatherings outside while observing social distancing and setting up food serving areas in a way that people are not coming in close contact with one another.
"I think families who have had the unfortunate experience of dealing with this virus up close will tell you that the temporary joy of bringing your family together is not worth the potential permanent consequences," Kanter said. "People don't think it's going to happen to them until it does, and I see that in the hospital time and time again."
Communications Director at LDH Aly Neel said while she understands everyone's desire to gather with their family during the holidays, the best way to show you care about your loved ones is to keep them safe and reduce the likelyhood you'll transmit COVID to them.
"Look, I get Thanksgiving is in a couple days," Neel said. "If you are going to gather with others outside your everyday household, please do what you can to reduce your and their risk. Mask up, keep your gathering small and brief and take it outside."
Kanter said that he does believe life will return to normal in the coming year, but it will take a concentrated and diligent effort on the part of citizens to do so, along with the vaccination that should surface sometime in December.
"Now we're talking about the light at the end of the tunnel," Kanter said. "I do think life goes back to normal, festivals come back, concerts come back-- just not yet."
Before that time comes, however, Kanter emphasized the necessity of abiding by all state-wide regulations during the holidays for the wellbeing of everyone in the state.
"In the big picture – not having Thanksgiving for one year in aim of keeping your family health is a really small sacrifice," Kanter said.
"There are very tragically going to be thousands of empty chairs at Thanksgiving tables this year in Louisiana," Neel said. "Do what you can this year to prevent more empty chairs next year."