By Dr. Anthony Policastro

It is interesting to look at Thanksgiving through the eyes of the current pandemic. The Mayflower had 102 individuals aboard. By the first anniversary of their arrival only 53 survived. That 53 included only five adult women.

That is better than a 50 percent mortality rate. Some of that was due to disease. Some of that was due to malnutrition. However, the deaths were real. 

We have seen many individuals die from COVID-19. Fortunately, the mortality rate is not as high as that of the Pilgrims. Unfortunately, it now stands at about one out of every 425 Americans having died from COVID-19.

Last year Thanksgiving occurred prior to the availability of vaccines. It was at the beginning of the winter surge. Thanksgiving gatherings likely were part of creating that surge.

This year many more people are vaccinated. Some will have even received their booster by Thanksgiving. Some children will have received initial doses of the vaccine by then as well.

This would suggest that the risks are somewhat lower this year. However, they are not non-existent. Thus, it is safer to have Thanksgiving gatherings this year. However, it is still important to know who will be coming to those gatherings. It is still important to practice the appropriate precautions.

The main reason for that is the high transmissibility of the Delta variant. One Delta-infected individual at an indoor gathering will likely cause all unvaccinated individuals to become infected as well. The amount of virus shed by that individual will have a high likelihood of causing breakthrough infections in already vaccinated individuals.

Last year, Thanksgiving gatherings were something that should have been avoided if possible. This year there is not a need for that. 

There are some precautions that would be wise. The first is knowing the status of the individuals who are attending. That includes vaccination status. That includes whether they are ill at the time of the gathering. That includes whether they have recently been exposed to someone who was ill.

Another easy thing to do is to have hand sanitizer at the dinner table. Using sanitizer just before eating avoids putting hands that might be contaminated in contact with faces. Social distancing before and after the meal would be beneficial if there is room to do so. 

Keeping the number of attendees to a minimum is wise. We know that indoor transmission is based on a number of factors. Those factors include the number of individuals. They include the length of time. They include the ventilation system. 

Thus the fewer the number of individuals and the shorter the time, the lower the likelihood for transmitting infections.

Unlike last year, Thanksgiving gatherings make more sense this year. They just need to be done with the knowledge that we need to be smart about them. Like the Pilgrims, we have a reason to celebrate this year after losing so many individuals since last Thanksgiving.

COVID update- National figures continue to rise. The number of new cases went from 580,000 last week to 676,000 this week. That compares to 1,235,000 for the same period last year.

Sussex County had a note on their website that reads: “Due to a technical issue, a large number of cases were recently classified as having an unknown county of residence. This issue was resolved on Nov. 19, and those records have been updated to reflect the correct county of residence.”

That means that last week’s reported figure of 369 new cases is now really 451 new cases instead. The original figure of 369 was down from the previous week. The new figure of 451 actually represents an increase in the number of cases for that previous week. The current week’s corrected numbers show an increase of 589 new cases. That is higher than the 451 last week. That compares to 653 for the same period last year.

The biggest news this week is that the FDA approved booster doses for all adults. That makes it a lot easier to figure out if you are eligible. Given the fact that the immunity takes two weeks, it is too late to use the booster for protection during Thanksgiving gatherings. However, a two week window for Christmas gatherings gives people up until Dec. 11 to get the booster. 

The Delaware website lists where the Department of Public Health trailer will be giving doses. It is usually somewhere in Sussex County every day. I got mine across from City Hall in Seaford. My wife got hers at the Laurel Public Health Center site. There were no lines either time. Many pharmacies are giving it. The waits are probably a little longer.

The antiviral drugs, especially Merck’s drug molnupiravir, appear to be a new very effective weapon in the fight against COVID-19. They are not yet approved for use. There is a word of caution. They must be taken within five days of the onset of symptoms. Someone who waits too long to be diagnosed might miss this window. This raises the importance of timely testing results.