Zoom Thanksgiving? Holiday travel is not essential travel, says public health officers

Coronavirus numbers are rising in the Bay Area, just as people are tempted to travel and socialize for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday.

On Monday, six Bay Area counties issued guidelines aimed at curbing infections during the holiday season.

Most notably, health officials want people who travel outside the Bay Area to quarantine for two weeks when they return.

"Spend two weeks at home, or get a test five to seven days after they return, and if it's negative then they can resume normal activities," said Marin County Public Health Officer Dr. Matt Willis. "That's how seriously we're taking this."

Case rates can run 10 times higher than the Bay Area in other parts of the country.

Factor that the infection risk in airports, flights, and ground transportation are high enough, so that the experts say travel is not worth the risk.

"Holiday travel is not essential travel and in some ways, you can show your love for your family and friends by not gathering this year because when you do, you put them at risk," said Willis. 

People already seem to be adjusting their expectations as they make plans.

"Usually we make two or three stops for Thanksgiving," said David Rios in San Rafael. "But when you have your bubble do you want to take your bubble to them?"

Rios has relatives across the Bay Area but is wary of too much visiting.

"I think it's going to be more families staying on their own, the tight family unit and doing their own Thanksgiving thing."

The guidelines also recommend that gatherings be hosted outdoors if possible, last no more than two hours, and include no more than three households.

"You're going to have to make some choices about who your holiday pod is," said Willis. "We want to keep it safe, keep it stable, keep it short, and we want to keep it small."

Officials also advise making trade-offs to minimize risk.

Attend a party one day? Don't dine out or get a haircut the same week. And don't accept every invitation.   

"Stay with one group rather than going from one group to another to another over the holidays," said Willis.

Family reunions will still happen, but more often on screens.

"Facetime is the way we're going to do things, it's just different. Kind of sad but it is what it is," said a mom named Diana, who said she would normally travel to Los Angeles for a reunion of siblings and cousins.

"Just stay home. Don't take the risk. This is real," added Diana. "I'm a nurse so I know. Be careful."

Another woman said she would celebrate Thanksgiving with friends, rather than visit out-of-state relatives.

"Typically I would fly back East, " said Gabrielle Brown of Mill Valley.

Instead, she is staying local and limiting her guests. 

"It also depends on the weather. If it's cold, maybe we meet by Zoom, " said Browne. "But most likely it will be in a big garden with a bit of a distance."

The holiday guidelines also warn against chanting and singing, which would seem to rule out Christmas caroling.

"We're gonna have some party, eat some food, I guess a little bit more distance," said Jonathan Lee in San Rafael. "We have to celebrate, with or without COVID19, have fun first, and be careful."

The holiday guidelines emphasize the importance of using masks and social distance during holiday parties, when the mood it may be easier to relax the rules.

They also suggest traveling in separate cars - with windows down for fresh air - to minimize transmission risk.