The arrivals and departures of American travelers deny the fact that the COVID-19 epidemic continues to grow. The U.S. reported 2,046 deaths on Wednesday – the highest number of one-day crown virus deaths in the country since early May – data from Johns Hopkins University show. The country has also reached a new record for daily hospitalization, with 89,954 people hospitalized for COVID-19, according to the COVID follow-up project. This is the 16th straight day that number broke the record for the pandemic previously reported by CNN.
We talked to Dr. Leana Wenn, a medical analyst at CNN, about how to stay safe after people return from the festive celebrations.
Primarily, anyone who traveled with visitors and friends or hosted guests outside their immediate household unit had to be quarantined, Wen advised.
Steps taken to protect others around you will help reduce the spread of COVID-19, especially when Hanukkah, Christmas and New Year are around the corner.
CNN: Many risked and got together with their loved ones for Thanksgiving. Why do you suggest that these people be quarantined upon their return?
Dr. Leana Wen: The coronavirus is sweeping across the country and there are hotspots in many areas. Anyone who has traveled to another part of the country and met other people may be at risk for COVID-19. When they return to their home communities, they can spread it – to people in their household, as well as to friends, colleagues, and everyone else around them.
We are facing an impending blow. Many hospitals are already on the verge. The ICUs are full. We all need to do our part and smooth the curve again. And that means knowing when we are in danger to others around us. If you have traveled and seen other people, it can be a danger to your community.
CNN: How to assess your risk?
WenA: There are three things to consider when assessing your own risk exposure. First, consider who you saw during the holidays. How many guests were there and what was their risk? Visiting elderly parents who have quarantined themselves is a very low risk. On the other hand, if you were with three households, some with teenage children who go to school, and they were at work themselves, and these households were not quarantined, the risk is much higher.
Second, what activities did you do with others? If you only see people outdoors, at least 6 feet apart, the risk is very low. Time spent indoors is a big risk, especially if you’re in poorly ventilated rooms for long periods of time and where people eat and drink (and therefore don’t have masks on it). If someone were to stay in their house, the risk could be even greater because the exposure time was longer.
Third, what exposure was there during the trip? If you drove, the risk will be less than if you flew. In fact, I’m less worried about in-flight risk exposure than all the other elements, like waiting at the airport and taking off on a jetway, where there’s a chance people will congregate in less well-ventilated rooms. Wearing a three-layer surgical mask all the time further reduces the risk. Overall, what worries me most is the risk of meeting people.
CNN: What does quarantine look like?
Wen: Good question. By quarantine, I mean that you have to act as if someone is suffering from a coronavirus because you could. This means staying as close as possible to others. Don’t work. Keep children away from school. Food delivery. We will certainly not meet others during this period.
It is safest to quarantine for 14 days. If testing is available, you can quarantine and test for at least seven days after the return date.
I admit it asks a lot. For some people, this full protocol may not be needed if the risk during the trip was indeed very low (i.e., if you only saw elderly parents who had already been quarantined and led yourself). But if you’ve come across others who are risking themselves, know that you’re in danger now, too.
Please keep in mind how contagious COVID-19 is and that nearly 60% of the spread is in people who have no symptoms. I’m sure none of us want to inadvertently infect others and increase the spread of the community where we live.
CNN: The community I return to is the hotspot itself. Do I still have to quarantine?
Wen: Yes. The fact that the area you are returning to also contains a lot of COVID-19 does not mean that you are not responsible for trying to keep up with the level. Hospital overcrowding affects all of us – not just those with coronavirus, but also those with cancer and heart disease who may not be able to access the care they need.
CNN: What if you have roommates who haven’t traveled with you?
Wen: If you usually live with other people at home who did not go with you on your trip, you should stay away from them during quarantine. Do not spend time in common areas. If this cannot be avoided – for example, if you have a shared toilet or kitchen – wear a mask, open the windows and do not use either at the same time as others. Keep in mind that they can also risk themselves if they also travel, so please ask them to follow the same quarantine protocol.
CNN: What should you do if you stay local, for example, if you are a college student and the school has issued it?
Wen: Some students could be quarantined and then tested before returning home. In this case, you will feel good to see your family members – although they should still be vigilant and should not behave as riskyly as their friends inside. For those who don’t know, they should be quarantined after returning, following the same procedures as above: ideally 14 days, if not, then at least seven days and then take a test.
CNN: Do I have to follow these procedures for Christmas and New Year?
Wen: Yes. It is almost certain that by then, coronavirus infection will be even higher and hospitals will be in an even more serious situation. I very much encourage everyone to postpone the irrelevant journey. We are so close to getting a vaccine that allows us to see each other safely again. Please, let’s go through this winter. Observe the fuses we know work: Wear a mask. Practice physical distance. Don’t collect inside. I know it’s very hard, but we can get through this winter too!
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