Dr. Anthony Fauci, Director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, raised a red flag about the safety of annual family gatherings during Thanksgiving last week on an interview on CBS.
People may have to “bite the bullet and sacrifice that social gathering unless you’re pretty certain that the people that you’re dealing with are not infected,” Fauci told CBS.
Doctors at area hospitals and officials at Stony Brook University are offering guidance to residents and students over a month before an annual holiday that often brings people from several generations, cities and states together.
Before they send some of the 4,200 on campus students at SBU home, the university plans to test them for the presence of the virus that causes COVID-19.
The week of Nov. 16, “every resident will be tested,” said Dean of Students Richard Gatteau. “Any positive cases would remain on campus” until the university knew they were negative.
Students remaining on campus would receive meals and would get the same level of care through the holidays that students would normally get if they tested positive during the semester.
Stony Brook expects the student population to decline after Thanksgiving, when all classes and final exams will be remote through the end of the semester.
For the students who plan to return to campus, Stony Brook realizes the logistical challenges of requiring viral tests during the short holiday and will provide tests in the first two days after these students return to their dormitories.
Even before the holiday, Stony Brook expects to increase the frequency of viral testing from bi-weekly to weekly.
Gatteau said the student government plans to educate students who plan to join family during the holiday about procedures to keep everyone safe. This guidance mirrors school policies, such as wearing masks inside when near other family members, keeping a distance of six feet inside and washing hands regularly.
The dean of students recently spoke with Dr. Deborah Birx, head of the White House’s coronavirus task force who visited Stony Brook to speak with officials about the school’s COVID response. Though Birx was pleased with the measures the university took, she was reportedly more worried about the behavior of extended family than with students during Thanksgiving.
“Her concern is with the older generation not following the rules,” Gatteau said. She wanted students to encourage their grandparents to follow the same procedures because “grandparents will listen to their grandkids.”
Types of Tests
Dr. Michael Grosso, Chief Medical Officer at Huntington Hospital, urged everyone to plan to get tested before coming together for Thanksgiving.
Dr. Grosso said two types of tests are available for students and parents. The first is an antigen test and the second is a PCR, for polymerase chain reaction, test. Grosso suggests that the PCR test is more reliable as the antigen test “misses more cases.”
The test technique is critical to its success. Some false negatives may result from inadequate specimen collection, Grosso said. The deep nasopharyngeal specimen “requires a little skill on the part of the person doing the test.”
Additionally, people getting tested before a family gathering need to consider the timing of the test. They may receive a negative test during a period of time in which the virus is developing in their bodies.
Active testing may have helped reduce the severity of the disease for people who contract it. People are coming to the hospital in some cases before the disease causes as much damage.
In addition to getting tested and monitoring possible symptoms, Grosso urged residents to continue to practice the new, healthier etiquette, even when they are with relatives during the holidays.
“Families need to have conversations” about how close they are prepared to get before they see each other, Grosso said. People need to “decide together what rules [they] are going to follow, and make sure everybody is comfortable with those.”
As for Thanksgiving in the Grosso home, the Chief Medical Officer said he and his wife have five children between them, two of whom will be coming for the annual November holiday. The others will participate, as has become the modern reality, at the other end of a zoom call. Typically, the entire family would come together.
Stony Brook’s Gatteau said he and his partner typically have 20 to 25 people over for Thanksgiving. This year, they are limited the guests to seven people. They plan to keep masks on in their house and will crack a window open so there is air flow.