As COVID-19 Cases Climb, How Safe Is It To Go Home For The Holidays? : Consider This from NPR On Friday, the U.S. hit its highest number of daily coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. Holiday travel could lead to even more drastic and deadly spikes.

As cases surge throughout the country, many people are wondering how to plan for the holidays. Is it safe for kids to see their grandparents? Should people be gathering as usual for big Thanksgiving dinners? How should people travel — to drive or to fly?

You sent us your questions — and we put them to NPR's Allison Aubrey and David Schaper, who reported out some answers ahead of a usually busy season for gathering and travel.

In participating regions, you'll also hear a local news segment that will help you make sense of what's going on in your community.

Email us at considerthis@npr.org.
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As COVID-19 Cases Climb, How Safe Is It To Go Home For The Holidays?

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As COVID-19 Cases Climb, How Safe Is It To Go Home For The Holidays?

As COVID-19 Cases Climb, How Safe Is It To Go Home For The Holidays?

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  • <iframe src="https://www.npr.org/player/embed/927320062/927958051" width="100%" height="290" frameborder="0" scrolling="no" title="NPR embedded audio player">
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AUDIE CORNISH, HOST:

With COVID cases surging across the country, you might be wondering how to handle the holidays - whether you should be doing, say, a big Thanksgiving gathering.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

VICE PRESIDENT MIKE PENCE: Thanksgiving is one of my favorite holidays.

LESLEY STAHL: Me, too.

PENCE: And I'm looking forward to it with our family.

CORNISH: Vice President Mike Pence, for instance, is being asked those questions.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "60 MINUTES")

STAHL: With a big - with extended?

PENCE: I think that's a decision every American family can make based on the circumstances in their community, the vulnerability of particular family members.

CORNISH: Days after this "60 Minutes" interview taped, five people who work closely with Pence, the head of the White House coronavirus task force, tested positive for coronavirus. The vice president himself and his wife have tested negative so far. They're still campaigning.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")

JAKE TAPPER: So CDC guidelines say that Vice President Pence should quarantine for 14 days. Now, I understand the White House is trying to get around that by saying the vice president is an essential worker. But, Mark, how is going...

CORNISH: That was CNN's Jake Tapper talking with White House chief of staff Mark Meadows on Sunday. Meadows defended Pence's decision to be on the campaign trail.

(SOUNDBITE OF TV SHOW, "STATE OF THE UNION")

MARK MEADOWS: CDC guidelines does say essential personnel if they will mask up.

TAPPER: Yes, if they wear a mask.

MEADOWS: And I spoke to the vice president last night at midnight, and I can tell you that what he's doing is wearing a mask, socially distancing. And when he goes up to speak...

CORNISH: CONSIDER THIS - last Friday, the U.S. hit its highest number of daily coronavirus cases yet. Holiday travel could lead to even more drastic and deadly spikes. We'll answer your questions about how to stay safe this season. From NPR, I'm Audie Cornish. It's Monday, October 26.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. We're all used to doing a kind of mental math by now.

MAUREEN ARRIGO: One parent works from home. One parent goes into a not particularly unsafe work environment.

CORNISH: Maureen Arrigo is 72, lives in San Diego. As the holidays get closer, she's calculating the risks of spending time with family - in particular, her two grandkids.

ARRIGO: And the children are not in full-time school but preschool and sort of a pod kind of learning environment.

CORNISH: Before the pandemic, Arrigo saw her grandkids every week. But since March, they've only gotten together four times. And when they do, it's outside.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: We're playing in the water.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: You are playing in the water.

CORNISH: The kids play in a little wading pool she keeps in her backyard.

ARRIGO: Masks, socially distanced. And as they say, they're playing in water. So keeping clean hands is not a problem.

UNIDENTIFIED CHILD: I think he wants to go inside.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: Oh, yeah?

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #2: Not till you're dried off.

ARRIGO: No. Yeah, not yet. You need to stay outside.

UNIDENTIFIED PERSON #1: You can go on the porch if you want.

CORNISH: Arrigo says it'd just be nice to have them come over like they used to. And the only thing she wants is for things to go back to normal.

ARRIGO: And to interact normally. I mean, it really is a loss not to be able to share full facial expressions with the kids and do up-close snuggles.

CORNISH: So that mental math continues.

ARRIGO: The chances that any of us are infected with this strike me as really remote. But who knows? (Laughter).

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: Well, in the spirit of salvaging the holidays as best we can, NPR's Allison Aubrey and David Schaper are here to answer some questions you all had about travel and gatherings right now.

Hello to you both.

(SOUNDBITE OF ARCHIVED NPR BROADCAST)

ALLISON AUBREY: Hi there, Audie.

DAVID SCHAPER: Thanks for having us.

CORNISH: Now, I think what's top of mind for a lot of people is whether there actually is a safe way for families to come together for the holidays. Here's one take on that question from Maureen Arrigo, who we heard from earlier.

ARRIGO: I wanted to know when it was going to be safer to get together with grandchildren, particularly in my case, where my husband and I are both in our 70s. We don't have any other vulnerabilities, just our age.

CORNISH: Allison.

AUBREY: You know, I think what's important to keep in mind right now, Audie, is that infections are on the rise in so many parts of the country. The virus is circulating widely. And all of the infectious disease experts I talked to say the next three months are going to be a big challenge. So the holidays just aren't going to be the same.

There's just no such thing as zero risk when we get together with family members. I mean, age is a risk factor. And though people who are 70 and healthy would likely do better than people with more risk factors and chronic diseases if they were to get infected, it's really a bit of the roll of the dice. I mean, the virus is unpredictable. And I think, bottom line, if the grandkids have been exposed, we know it's possible for them to be asymptomatic and transmit it. I mean, Maureen Arrigo says she's from San Diego. Given the weather there, outdoor socially distanced visits would probably be lower-risk and the best option.

CORNISH: We have a slightly different take on that same issue. It's from Emily Daly in Long Pond, Pa. She writes, I want to visit my 97-year-old mother in Miami. I feel she really needs a visit. Will she be safe seeing me? - David.

SCHAPER: Well, the first thing to keep in mind is the CDC warns that travel - any travel - increases your chances of getting or spreading COVID-19, so staying at home is the safest way to protect yourself and others. But this is a tough one because I think a lot of people are in this situation, not being able to see their older parents or grandparents in such a long time.

So the first part of the answer is, how would you get there? And, you know, Miami is a long way from Pennsylvania. But if possible, Emily might want to consider driving because health experts say there's actually less risk driving. I talked to epidemiologist Mercedes Carnethon at Northwestern University here in Chicago. And she says that's because so much of the time, you're in your own personal vehicle, either alone or only with those you live with.

MERCEDES CARNETHON: And it's really only those stops in the interim to get gas, to stop to pick up food, which you hopefully consume only around your household, and even interactions in a hotel if you have to stay overnight - so that's clearly the safest form of transportation.

AUBREY: And, you know, keep in mind, Audie, incubation of the virus is up to 14 days. Usually, it's shorter but up to two weeks. So if you are exposed during travel, you could become infectious during the period of your visit. Now, this might not be practical, but the safest strategy is, once you arrive, to wait to have that visit for up to two weeks. The other option is to get frequent testing upon arrival.

SCHAPER: One other thing to keep in mind is that some states require that you quarantine for 14 days upon arrival or that you show proof of a negative COVID test before you arrive.

CORNISH: But, David, can we come back to flying for a second? What is the guidance there? What do we know about what airlines are doing?

SCHAPER: Well, you know, the airlines do insist that it's safe. They point to studies showing that there are relatively few confirmed cases of in-flight transmissions. There's a new study that was actually released by the Defense Department showing that the hospital-grade HEPA air filtration systems on the plane and the way they flow downward from the ceiling to the floor makes transmission of the virus through small airborne particles very unlikely. Let's go back to Dr. Carnethon at Northwestern. She says as long as everyone is wearing a mask and following proper protocols, she'd be comfortable sitting on a plane.

CARNETHON: That said, there are many other areas that you come in contact with to get onto an airplane, such as the airport. Is it crowded? Moving around in an airport and different surfaces - but the actual plane flight does not trouble me personally.

SCHAPER: Yeah, so there are other places in the airport where social distancing may be difficult. When you're lining up to get a cup of coffee or even at security, you know, they'll space you out or try to tell you to stay on the markings on the floor, but some people may not follow those guidelines.

CORNISH: I want to move on to another question, this one from Jocelyn Nassar in San Mateo, Calif. This is a question about college visitors.

JOCELYN NASSAR: I'm just wondering how to handle having my two kids come home for Thanksgiving and winter breaks. They both go to school in different states, and we've been very careful. And I'm just concerned about having them come back into our home, especially since one lives in an area where people aren't wearing masks as much as we do here.

CORNISH: Schools have been all over the place in terms of guidance here. Allison, what's the best approach for parents?

AUBREY: You know, find out if the college campus where your kids are coming from has exit testing. Just as many campuses required entry testing at the start of the semester to make sure kids weren't coming in at the start with the COVID infection. Some schools will give students tests the day of or the day before departure. I spoke to Bill Miller - he's a physician and epidemiologist at Ohio State - about this, and he has another tip to gauge the risk.

BILL MILLER: Many, many campuses have dashboards available. You can see whether there have been lots of cases or hardly any cases. The main reason for looking is to give yourself some understanding of the risk that is about to be undertaken.

AUBREY: So if the level of spread within a campus has been low, that is a useful data point. And it's not unreasonable to ask your college-age students to get a COVID test if the school isn't offering one up, especially if you have high-risk people in your household.

CORNISH: We've been talking about people who need to travel to see loved ones, but there are listeners who are curious about getting together with people who live nearby. Here's Katie Cullen in Brooklyn.

KATIE CULLEN: My question is, I do not feel safe eating or doing any other activity indoors without a mask. What are some suggestions for safe winter activities once it gets too cold? How can we socially distance visit with friends safely when parks aren't an option?

CORNISH: Allison?

AUBREY: You know, I'd say rethink your idea of what is too cold.

CORNISH: OK, that's a rough answer.

(LAUGHTER)

AUBREY: My husband's family is of Swedish descent, and they're - you know, they're of the thinking you just get out there, that there's no such thing as bad weather. There's just underdressing. So it's - and I'm sure David has more suggestions, given that you live in Chicago.

SCHAPER: Yeah. You know, we've been wearing scarves and balaclavas and ski masks for years before masking was cool. And we've been doing socially distanced outdoor gatherings, masked up get-togethers with a handful of friends either on a patio or around a fire pit. In fact, I just got an email from a friend who I haven't seen in a long time this morning, saying that they're going to keep doing their little fire pit gatherings well into the winter and so we should come over sometime.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC)

CORNISH: That's NPR's David Schaper. He covers the airlines and travel - also, Allison Aubrey from the health and science beat.

It's CONSIDER THIS FROM NPR. I'm Audie Cornish.

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