SALT LAKE CITY (AP) — Thanksgiving could become a major super spreader event for COVID-19 transmission if people don't follow public health guidelines, physicians in Utah warned on Wednesday.
An increased number of hospitalizations across the state has prompted doctors and public health officials to advise against attending Thanksgiving gatherings with people outside their immediate households.
If people do not follow the guidance, COVID-19 hospitalizations will continue to increase and further overwhelm the state's already strained healthcare system, said Dr. Eddie Stenehjem, an infectious diseases specialist at the Intermountain Healthcare hospital network, based in Salt Lake City.
"We feel that the consequences of doing this and not being safe is going to be absolutely dire on our healthcare networks," Stenehjem told reporters. “We plead with you to please stay within your families and stay within your homes tomorrow as we celebrate Thanksgiving.”
Stenehjem's request for people to stay home for Thanksgiving came just days after Republican Gov. Gary Herbert said he would not extend his previous two-week order requiring people to limit social gatherings to people in their homes.
Herbert urged caution and recommended masks, social distancing and smaller gatherings for the holiday.
In Utah, 1 in 136 people were diagnosed with COVID-19 over the past week and the state is ranked tenth in the country for new cases per capita, according to data from Johns Hopkins.
There have been over 182,000 reported virus cases in Utah and more than 800 known deaths related to the virus, according to state data.
For most people, the coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some — especially older adults and people with existing health problems — it can cause more severe illness, including pneumonia, and death.
Eppolito is a corps member for the Associated Press/Report for America Statehouse News Initiative. Report for America is a nonprofit national service program that places journalists in local newsrooms to report on undercovered issues.