(NEXSTAR) – The invitations have gone out and the warnings have been issued, but many are still determining whether or not to take a risk by spending Thanksgiving with family and friends outside the household. But in many American counties, a gathering of 10 to 20 comes with a heaping side of coronavirus exposure risk.
Last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to travel, but many are refusing to give up their traditions. Rather than just gamble, health experts have warned people to consult the guidance of local health officials before sitting down to scoop the mashed potatoes.
Scholars have also developed some tools to help you determine just how risky your planned behavior might be.
A free COVID-19 Risk Assessment Planning Tool, created by a group of researchers at Georgia Tech, matches county-level infection data with with planned gathering size to provide a clearer picture of exposure risk.
The map breaks down the country by county and uses a slider to change the size of a hypothetical event (look at the bottom left to find and adjust the size of the event you are currently viewing). The data assumes that there will be ten times more cases than are being reported, but that number is less in areas where testing is widely available.
As of Tuesday, there were a number of counties across the country where a Thanksgiving meal for 20 projected at least a 90 percent chance of an infected guest attending. The majority of states had at least one county where such a gathering would be at least a 50-50 risk.
If such odds play out in thousands or millions of homes across the country, it will likely add fuel to the virus surge that is already straining our national healthcare system.
New cases of the virus in the U.S. have rocketed to all-time highs, averaging more than 170,000 per day, and deaths have soared to over 1,500 a day, the highest level since the spring. The virus is blamed for more than a quarter-million deaths in the U.S. and over 12 million confirmed infections.
“There is so much community transmission all over the United States that the chances of you encountering somebody that has COVID-19 is actually very, very high, whether it’s on an airplane, at the airport or at a rest area,” said Dr. Syra Madad, an infectious-disease epidemiologist for New York City hospitals.
If you are interested in checking your odds of exposure on a specific task, the MyCovidRisk app from Brown University’s Medical School will match your geography and exposure time to your planned outing to give you a better sense of the risk you are taking.
More people tend to drive than fly over Thanksgiving, but even car travel is expected to see a drop-off, according to AAA. Based on surveys in mid-October, the association was expecting 47.8 million people to drive to Thanksgiving gatherings, down 4% from last year. But AAA said the drop could prove to be even bigger, given the worsening crisis.
Those who do gather should eat outdoors, wear masks, stay 6 feet apart and have one person serve the food, the CDC has said.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.