Health Conditions

The CDC’s Thanksgiving warning isn’t really about travel

The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) had a new message for Americans on Thursday: Don’t travel during the upcoming holiday season.

It’s an oddly-timed missive given that Thanksgiving is only one week away. Millions have already made their holiday plans, and canceling your air travels and reservations isn’t necessarily the most orderly process.

But given that the average American only lives 18 miles from mom, flying isn’t our biggest problem. Simply driving to your aunt’s house for a Thanksgiving meal isn’t safe, either.

Viruses are going to virus, no matter what your transportation method. And indoor dining is particularly problematic per multiple studies and the CDC itself. Households with close quarters and slipping masks over holiday cheers isn’t going to help the worsening situation, no matter how cozy you may feel in your hometown.

Pandemic communication is a matter of focus. What, specifically, can stop the spread? Which behaviors should we be encouraging based on facts rather than baseless mind mentality and conventional wisdom, especially when it comes to protecting our families, friends, and neighbors?

The thing is that indoor gatherings are significantly more dangerous, as we know so far, than flying on a plane.

Yes, flying in a plane means you’re in an indoor space with other people. Your safety from COVID is going to depend on the individual airlines’ policies and enforcement of public health efforts such as limiting the total number of passengers or requiring masks.

But planes also come with technology like HEPA filters that can help with an airborne disease. Your Thanksgiving table probably doesn’t have the same privilege.

There’s a reason that indoor dining is, once again, flailing in regions like New York City, which are re-considering lockdowns. Take it from the World Health Organization (WHO): A virus spread through the air is most dangerous in enclosed spaces without filtration.

CDC officials on the Thursday call did emphasize, as usual, the importance of personal responsibility: wearing a mask, washing your hands, and socially distancing. But the emphasis on “don’t travel” mere weeks before the holiday season likely won’t mean much when the nature of this virus’ spread is a whole lot more complex.

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