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Preparing for a Thanksgiving gathering? Here's how to do so safely

COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations in Washington are trending downward but there are signs of flattening, state health department says

SEATTLE — Should I stay or should I go?

Round two of celebrating Thanksgiving pandemic-style is just around the corner and many are wondering if it's wise to attend gatherings or invite people over.

On his regular briefing Wednesday, Washington's top health official said it's OK to celebrate.

"We want people to enjoy Thanksgiving and the holidays but we want them to be safe in the process," said Secretary of Health Umair Shah.

The Washington State Department of Health (DOH) briefing referred to the state's high vaccination rates as well as a downward trend in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations statewide. As of Monday, 80% of people in Washington 12 and older have received at least one dose of the vaccine and 73.9% are fully vaccinated, according to DOH data.

But, Shah warned, a wave of cases resulting from holiday gatherings is possible.

"Where we are in November of 2021 is actually very similar to where we were in November 2020," Shah said.

The Dinwoodie family in Seattle were keeping that in mind as they shopped for Thanksgiving at Fred Meyer on Wednesday. They already got their turkey and are planning to invite a few people from their circle for Thanksgiving.

"I think it's still a little too uncertain out there now that cases are starting to trend back up and I don't know if we want to put our unvaccinated son at risk," Rob Dinwoodie said. 

The Dinwoodies said their son is 4. Children can receive the Pfizer vaccine at age 5.

Since the approval of the COVID-19 vaccine for children ages 5-11 earlier this month, more than 60,000 children across Washington state have received their first dose as of Nov. 15.

Doctors say people should once again keep holiday gatherings small and be aware of who's vaccinated and who's not.

"The single best way to ensure that your holidays are safe is to spend time around people who are vaccinated," said Dr. Seth Cohen, a clinical assistant professor at the University of Washington.

Cohen also serves as clinic chief of the Northwest Hospital Infectious Disease and Travel Medicine Clinics.

"Because vaccines decrease the ability to acquire and transmit the virus, they will make these celebrations significantly safer particularly for kids, compared to last year," Cohen said.

Also, different this Thanksgiving compared to last year's is the number of travelers who are ready to get on a plane.

Sea-Tac International Airport estimates 1.5 million travelers will pass through the airport starting this Thursday, Nov. 18 through Monday, Nov. 29.

Cohen recommends travelers wear high-quality, multi-layered masks while passing through the airport, notably during high-traffic times while lining up at the security gate.

Public Health – Seattle & King County's blog also recommends testing guidelines for people planning on traveling.

CDC guidelines say testing is not required for vaccinated people before holiday gatherings and travel, unless they are experiencing symptoms or have had positive exposure to someone with COVID-19.

Unvaccinated people should get a test three to five days after traveling and should quarantine for seven days after travel.