Rapid COVID-19 tests could help make Thanksgiving gatherings safer

If you are planning to celebrate Thanksgiving with family and friends, or you plan to travel over the holidays, Kaiser Permanente Georgia physician and epidemiologist Dr. Felipe Lobelo recommends getting vaccinated.

Those who are eligible for a booster shot, he says, should go ahead and get one soon.

With Thanksgiving now six weeks away, Lobelo says, the delta surge may be waning, but the virus is still a threat.

About 48% of Georgians and 56% of Americans are now fully vaccinated.

"There is still a lot of people who haven't been vaccinated, particularly in Georgia, almost half of the population," Dr. Lobelo says.  "And, delta is really good at finding those people."


If the FDA authorizes the Pfizer vaccine for younger children, kids age 5 through 11 could begin getting vaccinated a couple of weeks before Thanksgiving, giving many the chance to get their first dose before the holiday.

"But that's going to take a while," Lobelo says.  "We're probably not going to see the effects of that until next year, in terms of immune protection."

In the meantime, Dr. Lobelo says, it is important to remember that family gatherings can drive the spread of the virus, especially in households where certain members are not vaccinated.

"We know on average 70% of household members who aren't vaccinated are going to catch the virus if someone brings it home," Lobelo says. "It doesn't matter if it's a kid or it's an adult."

So, he recommends taking some some basic precautions, including wearing masks.

"If you're going to be gathering at home with people you don't typically gather with, that you don't know their vaccination status, you all need to wear masks," Lobelo says.

Rapid, at-home COVID-19 tests can add another layer of protection this Thanksgiving.

The tests take about 15 minutes and can detect infection, heading off the spread of the virus.

If he were hosting a gathering, Lobelo says, he would asks his guests to test themselves before they arrive, even if they are vaccinated.

"Because they're rare, but we're going to have cases in people that are fully vaccinated, and they can transmit the virus," Dr. Lobelo says.  "We also need to understand that delta has become really good at spreading through aerosols, essentially the air that we're breathing, in close contact with other people, indoors. So, the more that we use measures to avoid someone bringing the virus into the air that we breathe, the lower we're going to have the chances of infection."


For that reason, Lobelo recommends staying out of crowded indoor spaces.

"You don't want to be going to a packed bar, because, again, those are going to be situations where there is going to be a high likelihood of transmission,  and the more transmission we have in those settings, the more we're bringing the virus home."

The at-home tests, which are designed to detect viral proteins in the nose, are not foolproof, and they are not as sensitive as PCR or lab-based tests.

Still, they can be highly effective, especially when used by someone who is experiencing COVID-19 symptoms.

If you test positive, isolate from the other members of your household and contact your health provider.

If you have symptoms but test negative, you may want to get a PCR or lab-based test to rule out an infection.