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How 4 doctors plan to mitigate the risks of COVID, RSV and flu on Thanksgiving

COVID-19 rapid antigen self-tests. (Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)
COVID-19 rapid antigen self-tests. (Damien Meyer/AFP/Getty Images)

Editor's Note: This is an excerpt from WBUR's weekly health newsletter, CommonHealth. If you like what you read and want it in your inbox, sign up here


In many ways, this holiday season seems more "normal" than the last few. There are no longer mask mandates. There's no omicron surge (at least not yet). But then I heard Dr. Jacob Lemieux say, pretty much, the last thing I wanted to hear before heading into Thanksgiving break: “We are in the midst of a true triple-epidemic.”

COVID is still killing roughly 300 people a day in the U.S. pediatric hospitals are full of patients with RSV (aka respiratory syncytial virus). And influenza is just beginning to surge, said Lemieux, an infectious disease physician at Massachusetts General Hospital (MGH).

“There are many warning flags, I would say, regarding the holiday season ahead, risks to all ages and subsets of the population from these three dangerous respiratory viruses,” he added.

So, with that as the backdrop, I asked four medical experts exactly what they had in store for Thanksgiving, and what precautions they are planning to take.

Lemieux said RSV is running through his household. So, only if everyone is better by Thanksgiving will they be joining family and friends in New York.

His advice for those who don’t have any respiratory symptoms was this: “I don't want to say cancel Thanksgiving ... but there's likely a role for rapid COVID testing before — possibly more than once before.”

Lael Yonker, a pediatrician at MGH, is hosting 19 people for Thanksgiving. She's asking anyone with cold symptoms to take a rapid test before coming.

“And I've been having my kids wear their masks for the week leading up [to Thanksgiving], even though masks aren't required in school,” she said.

Jeremy Luban, professor of molecular medicine, biochemistry and molecular biotechnology at UMass Chan Medical School, is hosting an even bigger Thanksgiving meal, with more than 20 people expected. He’s invited over a number of members of his lab and other labs, who are from other countries or whose families live far away.

“These are people in infectious disease labs and are quite cognizant of the issues. But we will ask everyone to test, to do rapid tests,” Luban said, adding that the calculation might be different if you have attendees who are elderly or at high risk.

And finally, Kathryn Stephenson, an infectious disease expert at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center, had COVID when we spoke, one week before Thanksgiving.

“So I'm going to not go to Thanksgiving with my older relatives,” she said.

Stephenson urged people to go back to the basics, and just stay home if you are sick. If you absolutely cannot stay home, she advised wearing a really good mask.

Whatever you decide to do this holiday, I wish you and your loved ones a happy — and hopefully healthy (fingers crossed) — Thanksgiving.

Related:

Gabrielle Emanuel Twitter Senior Health and Science Reporter
Gabrielle Emanuel is a senior health and science reporter for WBUR.

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