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Washington 'cannot afford' COVID-19 spike after Thanksgiving. Here's how to celebrate safely

Health officials in Washington state and beyond are urging people to make their social circles smaller as COVID-19 cases spike ahead of Thanksgiving.

SPOKANE, Wash. — The holiday season is normally a time for gathering with loved ones. But health experts say it's time to limit our contact with others as coronavirus cases spike in Spokane County and throughout the country. 

That means coming up with alternative options for celebrating the Thanksgiving holiday. 

Lacy Fehrenbach, Washington's Deputy Secretary of Health for COVID-19 Response, said during a media briefing on Tuesday that Canada celebrated its Thanksgiving holiday about one month ago and saw a spike in cases following the holiday. 

“We cannot afford this in Washington state," Fehrenbach said. 

The safest Thanksgiving is one celebrated with people in your immediate household, Fehrenbach said. Health officials also "strongly recommend" that people find alternative to in-person gatherings. 

Those who still want to hold gatherings are advised to host them outdoors if possible and limit attendance to no more than five people outside of their household. 

Another option includes a full quarantine for 14 days before the holiday, as the incubation period of COVID-19 is two weeks. That means people would only leave their houses for essential trips to the grocery store or pharmacy or a brief walk around the neighborhood.

RELATED: Tips for safely celebrating Thanksgiving amid COVID-19 pandemic

Dr. Payal Kohli, a cardiologist and disease prevention expert who works with KREM's sister station KUSA in Denver, also advised people to limit the duration of their Thanksgiving gatherings and the directness of contact. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention defines close contact as being less than six feet apart from someone for 15 minutes or longer, and those minutes do not have to happen consecutively. 

“But personally I feel that is very arbitrary because we know, based on the transmission dynamics of the virus, that if somebody coughs or sneezes on you, within 30 seconds they can spread the virus to you and it really doesn’t have to be that 15 minutes," Dr. Kohli explained.

It's time to 'dial back' our quarantine bubbles

Health officials in Washington state, along with Dr. Kohli, are also urging people to make their social circles smaller to curb the spread of COVID-19. 

“We significantly have to dial back our quarantine bubble," Dr. Kohli said in an interview with KREM on Tuesday.

A phenomena called "exponential growth" of COVID-19 is at work in Spokane County and across the United States, which essentially means "cases beget more cases," Dr. Kohli explained. 

It's important to temporarily close our "bubble" and determine who should be in it rather than pushing it open during this time of spiking cases, Dr. Kohli said. The statistical probability that a close friend or loved one could be an asymptomatic of COVID-19 continues to rise along with cases. 

“And at this point only your immediate household, so the people that you live with, should be in your bubble. And it’s not going to be like this forever – it’s just for the next few weeks," Dr. Kohli added. 

It takes at least two weeks for COVID-19 testing to reflect whether or not people have made behavioral changes and at least three to four weeks for hospitalizations to reflect that, Dr. Kohli said. 

Dr. Kathy Lofy, who serves as health officer for Washington state, said during a press conference on Tuesday afternoon that people should ideally stop socializing for several weeks. Those who see friends should limit their social contacts to no more than five people outside of their household per week and keep interactions as brief as possible, she said. 

RELATED: 'Stop the gatherings:' Washington health officials aim to slow accelerated COVID-19 transmission

There are risks associated with seeing friends, even if all parties are wearing masks. 

While masks reduce the risk of COVID-19 spread, they are not "foolproof," Dr. Kohli said. Surgical and cotton masks only reduce about two-thirds of respiratory droplets, she added. 

Dr. Kohli also reiterated some ways that people can spend time with loved ones during the pandemic. It's safer to see someone outdoors than indoors and keeping a distance of six feet is safer than being close, she said. 

RELATED: Comparing Spokane County's summer COVID-19 spike to fall spike