Dr. Anthony Fauci's daughters won't spend Thanksgiving with him in Washington, despite him and his wife saying they'd love to host them.
The women, who live in three different parts of the country, decided against the visit to protect their father from the novel coronavirus, Fauci said in a webinar hosted by American University.
While there's no one answer to whether you should visit family for the holidays, experts recommend weighing the practical risks with the mental-health benefits.
Video: How Anthony Fauci became the nation's top infectious-disease expert
The nation's top infectious-disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, won't be spending Thanksgiving with his daughters this year, despite his and his wife's desires.
"I have three daughters in three disparate parts of the country ... who we don't see very often," Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said during a webinar hosted by American University's Kennedy Political Union Tuesday. "We would love for them to come home for Thanksgiving."
But the daughters, ages 28 to 34, didn't want to take the risk traveling would pose to their parents' health.
"Dad, you know you're a young, vigorous guy," Fauci said they told him. "But you're 79 years old."
Plus, the women would be traveling from cities that don't have low coronavirus-infection rates.
Rather than joining their parents for Thanksgiving, the women encouraged their parents to "have a nice quiet dinner," perhaps with a neighbor they see frequently, if they have tested negative for COVID-19. They said they'd send their love via Zoom.
"So we decided to make it a very, very closed family type of thing," Fauci told American University President Sylvia M. Burwell, who moderated the webinar.
"I'm not going to criticize people who do it differently," he added. "But look at the individual situation in your own family and make a decision that way."
Experts recommend weighing the practical risks with emotional benefits when making a decision about holiday travel
Like Fauci, other public-health experts have said there's no one answer as to whether you should visit family over the holidays.
There's no risk-free choice — staying home doesn't mean an older relative can't catch the coronavirus some other way, and traveling doesn't necessarily mean you'll feel satisfied if, for instance, you choose not to hug or eat together.
Ask yourself what sorts of coronavirus risks your visit could pose, considering things like transmission levels in both your areas, how you would travel and where you would stay, whether other family members would join and what their health status is, and how you would get together once you're there.
Remember, while we're still learning a lot about this virus, a few truths have held: Outside is better than inside, fewer people is better than more, and older people and those with underlying conditions are most vulnerable.
Then, take your practical cap off and step back into your emotions. Are the risks you've assessed outweighed by your family's mental and emotional health?
Maybe you worry you may not see a family member again, or perhaps someone in your family is particularly isolated and lonely — a state that alone is linked to serious health consequences, including a higher risk of early death.
"You can't underestimate mental health," Ghosh said.
There are ways to pursue both safety and connection whether you stay or go
If you decide to travel, Ghosh recommends driving rather than flying and staying in an Airbnb that you've reserved for 24 hours before you arrive to ensure no one has just been in the house.
If you stay with a relative, make sure you have your own bathroom, find ways to gather outside or with lots of ventilation, maintain a 6-foot distance, and wear masks.
Getting a test before you go or when you arrive can't hurt, but don't let a negative give you a false sense of security, Ghosh said. The rapid tests can deliver false negatives up to 40% of the time, and while the PCR tests are more, but not perfectly, accurate, they can take up to seven days to process, giving you time to come into contact with the virus before receiving your results.
"Maybe you want to come in and quarantine yourself for a couple of days or get tested a couple of times before you go in, but that's going to be kind of an inconvenience because Thanksgiving is generally a three- or four-day clip," Fauci said in the webinar.
"By the time you travel, get there, and go back, you're not talking about a couple of weeks," he added.
In other words, unless you're able to quarantine, act like you're contagious the whole time.
If you decide, like the Fauci family, to celebrate virtually, consider ways to make the day special by, for instance, asking a grandparent to teach all the grandchildren a family recipe over Zoom, and then all cooking and eating it "together."
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