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CDC recommends Americans to avoid traveling for Thanksgiving

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) is recommending people avoid traveling to see friends and family during the Thanksgiving holiday as COVID-19 cases continue to surge, with millions of people currently infected, many of whom are not showing symptoms and don't know they are contagious.

“As we're seeing exponential growth in cases, and the opportunity to translocate disease or infection from one part of the country to another, leads to our recommendation to avoid travel at this time,” Henry Walke, COVID-19 incident manager at the CDC, said in a press call with reporters Thursday.

Thanksgiving should be spent with only people living in your households, Walke said.

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Updated CDC guidance released Thursday also clarifies the definition of “household” to mean people who have been living in the same home for at least 14 days before celebrations. The update was particularly aimed at college students who typically return home from campus for the holidays but risk bringing an infection with them this year. 

“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is at home with the people in your household,” said Erin Sauber-Schatz, head of the CDC's community intervention and critical population task force.

“If people have not been actively living with you for the 14 days before you're celebrating, they are not considered a member of your household, and therefore you need to take those extra precautions.”

Still, in an acknowledgment that many people will likely ignore the CDC’s no-travel advisory, the agency recommended that people who do so anyway take several precautions, including wearing masks, staying six feet away from people outside your household and holding small gatherings outside. 

More than 1 million COVID-19 cases were reported in the U.S. over the past seven days, the highest numbers recorded throughout the pandemic with no end in sight.

The total number of people currently infected is likely far higher, with one estimate putting it at around 7 million or 1 in 50 Americans. Hospitalizations and deaths are also going up and likely to continue increasing in the coming days and weeks as more people become sick. 

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Experts worry Thanksgiving will accelerate the pandemic as people gather with friends and family across the country, potentially indoors, where the virus has a better chance of spreading.

Experts have long warned of a surge in cases this fall and winter, as the colder weather forces people to spend more time inside and COVID-19 fatigue sets in, with people letting their guards down on following public health measures.

“The tragedy that could happen is that one of your family members — from coming together in this family gathering — actually could end up being hospitalized and becoming severely ill and dying,” Walke said. 

“We certainly don't want to see that happen. I think these times are tough. It's been a long outbreak, almost 11 months now, and people are tired, and we understand that people want to see their relatives and their friends in the way they've always done it but this year, particularly we're asking people to be as safe as possible, and limit their travel.”