Epidemiologists say that small gatherings among family and friends are not driving surging cases of COVID-19, contradicting many recent claims by political leaders and public health experts.
As Americans prepare to celebrate Thanksgiving, politicians and others have ratcheted up rhetoric against family gatherings, suggesting such events are the some of the primary spreaders of the coronavirus. Epidemiologists studying the disease say there is little evidence to back up such claims, however, according to The New York Times.
“Somebody says something, and somebody else says it, and then it just becomes truth,” Harvard University infectious disease expert Julia Marcus told the Times. “I worry about this narrative that doesn’t yet seem to be data-based.”
Epidemiologists say that many heavy-handed regulations, such as an order last week from Minnesota Democratic Gov. Tim Walz banning people from separate households from meeting outside, run contrary to the data and are breeding resentment among Americans who cannot square such orders with other activities still allowed. Vermont Republican Gov. Phil Scott has barred neighbors from meeting outside, but allows them to dine together at a restaurant.
“If people are going to meet up, doing so outdoors is probably the lowest-risk way to do it,” University of Toronto infectious disease modeler Ashleigh Tuite said. “Telling people they can’t spend time safely outdoors isn’t a rational approach. People are going to recognize that and push back.”
“If you’re an average person looking at what’s allowed and what’s not allowed, it may not make a lot of sense,” she added. “I can get together with nine of my best friends and sit around a table at a restaurant. So why can’t I do that in my house?”
Governors and public health experts have stuck by cracking down on Americans’ Thanksgiving plans, despite the fact that backyard celebrations and family dinners are not the primary driver of coronavirus infections. In Los Angeles, city officials have mandated that all restaurants in the city shut down during what is one of the busiest weeks of the year.
“As we modify our Thanksgiving holiday celebrations, we are reminded of the many families who will miss their loved ones who have passed away from COVID-19. We send wishes for healing and peace,” Los Angeles County Public Health Director Barbara Ferrer said in a statement Sunday. “The persistent high number of cases requires additional safety measures that limit mixing in settings where people are not wearing masks.”
New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo drew vicious blowback after it was revealed he intended to celebrate Thanksgiving with his mother after warning New Yorkers about having family over for the holiday. He later canceled his plans to spend the holiday with his mother after the public backlash.
“Your family sounds safe, doesn’t it? Your home sounds safe. Your dining room table at Thanksgiving sounds safe. This is a safe environment. I’ll be safe. No, you won’t be safe. It’s an illusion,” Cuomo said during a press conference last week. “My sister loves me. My sister could infect me. Not maliciously, but accidentally. It’s counter-intuitive, what I thought was the safest place and the safest situation in my home at my table with my family. It can’t be any safer than that. That’s the dangerous situation.”