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A Negative Coronavirus Test Doesn’t Mean You Can Safely Gather For Thanksgiving, State’s Top Doc Says

"The safest way to celebrate with your loved ones and your cherished, elderly relatives is to do it virtually. ... I don't want anyone to look back and say, 'If only we didn't have people over for Thanksgiving ... so-and-so might still be here'" for the holidays.

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CHICAGO — Getting a negative coronavirus test does not mean you can have a Thanksgiving gathering, the state’s top doctor warned Thursday.

For weeks, the state’s and city’s leading health officials have begged people to cancel their holiday plans and not gather with friends and family from outside their household. They’re worried such gatherings could lead to COVID-19 spreading even further and, ultimately, killing people’s loved ones.

Similarly, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention released guidance Thursday advising Americans not to travel and to have online celebrations for Thanksgiving.

Dr. Ngozi Ezike, head of the Illinois Department of Public Health, doubled down on that during a Thursday news conference, telling people the safest way to gather is virtually — regardless of if you’ve had a COVID-19 test recently.

“A negative test does not give you a free pass to celebrate Thanksgiving in person,” Ezike said. “The safest way to celebrate with your loved ones and your cherished, elderly relative is to do it virtually.

“… I don’t want anyone to look back and say, ‘If only we didn’t have people over for Thanksgiving … so-and-so might still be here'” for the holidays.

It can take up to 14 days for someone with COVID-19 to test positive, so someone could get a negative test but still be ill — which means they could spread the disease to family and friends if they see them for the holiday.

The potential for that spread is higher now, as Chicago and the rest of Illinois are in the midst of a “COVID storm.” New cases, hospitalizations and deaths have skyrocketed in recent weeks, and hospital beds are quickly filling up.

Ezike and Gov. JB Pritzker said keeping the holiday online will save lives. They’ve said they do not want to see holiday celebrations turn into superspreader events that lead to people dying.

And the two noted they expect online holidays to only be temporary, especially as vaccine news has brightened recently.

“I’d like to remind everyone that this is a time-limited sacrifice,” Ezike said. “The more we can reduce the spread of the virus now … the quicker we can then get back to normal” after a vaccine is out.

Earlier in the day, Chicago’s health chief, Dr. Allison Arwady, said she also has concerns about the holiday. Canada saw a surge in cases after its Thanksgiving celebrations last month, she said; but Canada has had better control of its outbreak than the United States, which means a post-Thanksgiving surge here could be even worse.

Arwady, Ezike, Pritzker and Mayor Lori Lightfoot have all said they’re canceling their traditional Thanksgiving plans and having celebrations with only members of their household to slow the virus’s spread.

“I would rather you stay home. We all would rather you stay at home, for people who are planning to hit the road to go visit somebody for Thanksgiving,” Pritzker said. “It is much safer if you would do it over Zoom just this year — just this year.

“Just for this year, please, stay at home.”

Block Club Chicago’s coronavirus coverage is free for all readers. Block Club is an independent, 501(c)(3), journalist-run newsroom.

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