Editor’s Note: The Iredell County Health Department provided the following guidelines for preventing further spread of COVID-19 over the Thanksgiving holiday.

Special to Iredell Free News

Thanksgiving remains an important time for families to gather together.

Since COVID-19 is highly contagious, the table may look a bit different this year, with fewer chairs spaced further apart, but traditions do not have to be broken. The feast and memories made from being together can remain the same, especially through the use of today’s video chat technology.

Gov. Roy Cooper recently announced Executive Order 176 to limit indoor gatherings to 10 people in an effort to drive down COVID-19 cases, the percent of positive tests and hospitalizations. These are some of the key indicators tracked over time that help authorities measure the impact of COVID-19.

This order is in effect through Friday, December 4.

Science has shown that indoor gatherings increase risk of transmission of COVID-19. The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is with people within your household.

If you do plan to spend Thanksgiving with people outside your household, we encourage you to take steps to make your Thanksgiving celebration safer:

• Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.
• Limit the number of guests to 10 or less for indoor gatherings.
• Have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.
• Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use.
• If celebrating indoors, make sure to open windows.
• Limit the number of people in food preparation areas.
• Have guests bring their own food and drink.
• If sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils and plates.

Many Thanksgiving hosts will plan with virus precautions in mind; however, not all preventative measure are possible to maintain. Therefore, the risk of exposure to COVID-19 increases. It takes a combination of all virus prevention strategies to be most effective: social distancing by at least six feet, wearing a mask correctly, limiting close contacts to less than 15 minutes while within six feet away, frequent hand washing and following the above bulleted actions.

It is difficult to fully prevent spread of the virus, even with the most vigilant protection efforts. There are a lot of responsibilities for the host and guests to work through this year; therefore, it is recommended that everyone work together to prevent spreading and getting COVID-19.

If you are traveling for the Thanksgiving holiday, consider getting a COVID-19 test 3 to 4 days ahead of your Thanksgiving travel or gathering and completing the proper quarantine until results are back. A COVID-19 test can help someone know if they have COVID-19, even if they do not yet have symptoms.

Know that a screening test can miss some infections. We do not recommend a rapid test due to accuracy purposes. Furthermore, a negative test only gives you information for that point in time.

It is almost impossible to eliminate all risks of getting COVID-19; however, you can reduce your risks by making wise travel decisions, especially during peak travel days.

Remember, after a negative COVID-19 test, you are still at risk of getting infected anywhere, if you are traveling a long distance in an automobile and especially if you board a crowded airplane or bus.

Testing is available every day of the week but Sunday, at Starmed locations. There are no restrictions to be tested and testing is offered at no cost to you. To view upcoming testing sites visit our website https://nc-iredellcounty.civicplus.com/1406/Community-Testing

Every family has a loved one that includes an individual at higher risk for severe illness (i.e. people over the age of 65 or who have underlying health conditions). As these cases in our community are increasing, so do our loved ones’ risk of developing serious complications from COVID-19 or worse — they may not be with us at all for the next Thanksgiving celebration.

From September to October, there has been a 45 percent increase in of number of cases and a 21 percent increase in cases from this week compared to last week. Hospitalizations have increased by 20, since this time last month and we have already had 14 deaths reported this month. This is a very serious and contagious virus that will take all of us working together to stay apart in order to protect each other.

Additional information related to COVID-19 can be found at the following resources:

♦ NCDHHS-DPH: www.ncdhhs.gov/covid19
♦ CDC: www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/index.html
♦ Iredell County Health Department: https://nc-iredellcounty.civicplus.com/1383/Coronavirus-COVID-19