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Bellevue modeler does the math on the danger of gathering for Thanksgiving

Health officials are advising against gathering for Thanksgiving this year. (Unsplash)

With COVID cases continuing to rise in Washington state, Bellevue’s Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM) dug into the data to provide some context over the risks posed by gathering in large groups for the Thanksgiving holiday.

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According to IDM Principal Research Scientist Mike Famulare, Washington’s recent “explosion” in COVID cases and hospitalizations “is due to increasing prevalence in the community.” For anyone planning a well-attended Thanksgiving dinner, that brings significant risk, with prevalence trending toward 1% by the time we reach the holiday.

“What does 1% prevalence in WA on Thanksgiving Day mean?” Famulare posited on Twitter. “Seventy-six thousand people with COVID. Between 25 to (40,000) people who won’t yet know they are sick bringing (COVID-19) to dinner.”

Famulare estimates that of those people carrying infections on Thanksgiving, 450 of them will likely die by New Year’s Eve.

Having 1% prevalence — amounting to 1 in 100 people potentially infected with COVID — also means increased risk for every additional person at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

“If 1% sounds low to you, I ask how big is your group? Each person adds more risk,” Famulare warned. “On average in WA, if you have dinner with 15 people, the risk of at least one bringing COVID is around 15% — 1 in 6.”

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“The same odds of catching a bullet in Russian roulette,” he added.

Famulare believes that “if we change our behavior to stop transmission as effectively as we did in March,” there’s a good chance that “we can turn this around and avoid record-shattering hospitalizations, death, and chronic (COVID-19).”

Shortly before announcing a host of new restrictions regarding grocery store capacity, out-of-household gatherings, indoor dining, and more, Gov. Inslee similarly pleaded with Washingtonians last week to avoid gathering with anyone outside your household for Thanksgiving.

Sitting alongside his wife Trudi, Inslee said the “simple request” from their family to everyone else in Washington state is to not have Thanksgiving gatherings unless you can be absolutely sure that everyone outside your own household has been fully quarantined for 14 days, which would have started Nov. 12.

In those instances, Famulare still urged that people “come only for dessert and don’t stay too long” to avoid prolonged contact.

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