Doctors ask people avoid having small indoor gatherings as holidays approach

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MILWAUKEE (CBS 58) - With cases rising, some doctors say the fall and winter surge we feared is here. Now, they’re asking people to stop having small gatherings inside their homes.

With Halloween, Thanksgiving and the holidays around the corner, state health officials are asking people to start "seriously thinking" about keeping their celebrations with only the people in their household.

“There are people that are interacting -- especially in cold weather -- inside homes, which we know right now is the major source of community spread,” said Dr. John Raymond, president and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin.

Some doctors say small household gatherings are no longer safe.

“What’s a safe size for a gathering? I think at this point there’s not a minimum size that’s safe,” said Dr. Nasia Safdar, medical director for infection prevention at UW Health.

“Remember COVID-19 is most contagious in the two days before people develop symptoms,” said Dr. Raymond.

They say reducing your exposure to others is a key factor in slowing the spread.

“We are spreading it in ways we don’t even know that it’s happening,” said Andrea Palm, secretary-designee, Wisconsin Department of Health Services.

With the seven-day average positivity rate at more than 21-percent statewide, area health officials say Milwaukee County is also seeing negative trends.

“We too here are seeing increases in our percent positive rates,” said Dr. Ben Weston, medical director, Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management. “Now consistently above 10-percent”

“That 10-percent is really a red flag to say—where are we in our ability to control this pandemic?” added Marlaina Jackson, interim commissioner for Milwaukee Health Department.

The holidays are a concerning time for doctors and public health officials.

“We see it in our trends as far as holidays in the past, that a holiday hits and we have a spike or an increase in cases around one to two weeks after that,” said Jackson.

“I think we’re all concerned about what Thanksgiving might bring,” said Dr. Safdar. “So just reminding people to think about, you know, this is probably not the time where we could have a Thanksgiving like we did pre-COVID.”

On top of avoiding gatherings and maintaining a distance, doctors say the length and intensity of the get-togethers also play a part in protecting yourself from COVID-19.

“Meaning that you don’t want to be indoors or around people that are singing, shouting or speaking loudly,” said Dr. Raymond.

Dr. Raymond wants to remind people that a six-foot distance does not substitute for wearing a mask. He says wearing masks must be combined with other safety practices like distancing and washing hands in order to best protect ourselves and others.

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