How JoCo health experts are spending Thanksgiving — and their recommendations for you

With Thanksgiving less than a week away, health experts share what their plans are for the holiday during COVID-19 — which includes social distancing and avoiding large gatherings. Used under a Creative Commons license. Photo credit anjuli_ayer.

Just as Johnson County’s COVID-19 percent positive increased to 16.5% this week, families are trying to figure out how to best celebrate Thanksgiving — and if a celebration itself is safe.

“We’re definitely looking at the holiday season and if people don’t follow the right precautions, we will be in trouble,” said AdventHealth Communications Manager Morgan Shandler. “We really, really want people to keep that in mind.”

Shandler reported that AdventHealth Shawnee Mission hit 44 COVID-19 in-patients at the beginning of this week, the highest it’s been since the beginning of the pandemic.

Meredith Shellner, AdventHealth’s infection prevention program manager, will be spending this Thanksgiving with her husband. Photo courtesy of Meredith Shellner.

Online celebrations

Some health experts like Meredith Shellner, AdventHealth Shawnee Mission’s infection prevention program manager, are planning on celebrating with family virtually. Although Shellner and her family were supposed to travel to California for Thanksgiving this year — as part of a family rotation between Wichita, Kansas City and California for the holiday — she decided to cancel the trip and set up FaceTimes and Zoom meetings instead.

Shellner said her 88-year-old mother decided to get creative for Thanksgiving and will be buying everyone’s Thanksgiving meal even though they’re spread out nationwide. Still, Shellner said she doesn’t blame those who forge ahead with their holiday plans, but it will result in increased positive cases.

“Our numbers have been steadily increasing over the last three to four weeks for sure,” Shellner said. “That number is just going to continue to rise, even with the things that the cities and counties are trying to put in place.”

Cases tend to spike after holidays

AdventHealth currently has 44 in-patients with COVID-19, the highest its had since the start of the pandemic.

As the infection prevention program manager, Shellner said she works with a small team to collect data, educate and participate in policy and procedural changes to ensure alignment with nationally recognized organizations like the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.

Shellner noted that COVID-19 cases increased following three summer holidays, especially after Father’s Day.

If it’s not directly affected someone, Shellner said, they may be less likely to believe the severity of the coronavirus.

Additionally, some of Johnson County Department of Health and Environment’s epidemiologists are staying close to home this holiday, public information officer Barbara Mitchell said. This means they’ll be celebrating with their immediate family rather than traveling to see extended family members, which normally requires a plane ride, she said.

Health educators and nurses are taking similar safety measures, and will be celebrating only with the people in their households, Mitchell said. They will not have people over to watch traditional Thanksgiving football games, either, she said.

JCDHE recently provided Thanksgiving guidance on Twitter, including ‘safe’ and ‘less safe’ options.

Additional JCDHE Thanksgiving guidance can be found online here.