A recent study revealed that COVID-19 can spread among members of the same household at an alarming rate. The study was conducted in Wisconsin and Tennessee from April to September 2020. Results from the households that participated led researchers to these main conclusions:
- SARS-CoV-2 is frequently spread among adults and children in the same household.
- The virus is spread throughout the household quickly and early during illness onset.
- Protective measures within the household should be taken immediately and stay consistent until everyone is healthy again, to prevent further spread.
The COVID-19 household study was conducted at Vanderbilt University Medical Center by Dr. H. Keipp Talbot, professor of medicine, and Dr. Carlos Grijalva, associate professor of health policy. The researchers determined that staying healthy when someone in your household has contracted COVID can be tricky. Of the households studied, 53% of healthy persons sharing a home with an infected person also contracted the virus.
They also found that new infections spread from housemate to housemate very quickly. Approximately 75% of additional infections in the same household occurred within five days of the first infection discovered through testing or symptoms.
7. The Added Concern of “Pandemic Fatigue”
As the holidays approach, medical authorities are concerned that families and people sharing a household will relax their infection precautions, both to their detriment and to the health risk of others they come in contact with after the holidays pass. After many months of social distancing, a wave of “pandemic fatigue” can find people getting careless because they are tired of the isolation. They find cancelling or missing holiday celebrations emotionally challenging, especially after such a difficult year. Yet these household gatherings pose a significant threat to public health this winter, before COVID-19 vaccines are widely available.
6. The CDC’s Concerns About the Holidays
The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is concerned about how even small household gatherings this holiday season could rapidly increase COVID cases in the US. “Unfortunately, the COVID-19 epidemic is worsening, and small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases,” the CDC states on their website, where they offer guidelines for holiday celebrations. “These considerations are meant to supplement—not replace—any state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations with which all gatherings must comply.”
5. How the CDC Explains Households and Their Safest Holiday Plan
The CDC recommends that people celebrate the holidays together either virtually or only with the members of their own household as the best way to avoid contracting and spreading COVID-19. “Your household is anyone who currently lives and shares common spaces in your housing unit (such as your house or apartment),” the CDC states.
This means that college students returning from school, and others you don’t live with full-time, would be considered members of different households. “In-person gatherings that bring together family members or friends from different households, including college students returning home, pose varying levels of risk.”
4. The Risks of Getting Together This Year
According to the CDC, the health risks of catching and spreading COVID-19 this year can go up depending on factors that can differ from household to household. Those factors could include:
- COVID case levels in certain areas are significantly higher. If members of various households come together in an area with high infection rates, your chances of catching and spreading the virus go up.
- Travel to any area can lead to virus exposure from airports, bus and train stations, public restrooms, and gas stations along the way.
- Attendee precautions used (or not used) prior to and during the holiday gathering.
3. Household Gatherings Duration and Size
Two more factors that could raise the risk of COVID spread at the holidays are how long you gather and how many people are with you. The CDC says the longer the gathering, the higher the risk. “Being within six feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more greatly increases the risk of becoming sick and requires a 14-day quarantine.”
Even if a holiday gathering is very small, the CDC encourages all “attendees from different households” to wear masks, stay at least six feet apart, and practice regular hand washing while together.
2. What Happens If You Develop Symptoms at a Holiday Gathering?
The Vanderbilt University Medical Center study on COVID spread in households confirmed what other medical authorities have been saying about the importance of self-isolation. Whether in your own household or at a holiday gathering far from home, if you develop symptoms of COVID-19 you should self-isolate immediately. Follow local guidelines in that area for how to get tested, get treatment if needed, and how to further protect your loved ones from contacting the virus from you. All people at or from the gathering should take extra precautions and quarantine according to local and CDC guidelines as well.
1. Stay Vigilant for a Healthy Holiday Season
Through the colder fall and winter months, COVID-19 cases could keep increasing at an alarming speed. Unfortunately, this does make holiday gatherings a significant health risk if you celebrate in close proximity with people from different households. The CDC strongly encourages people to stay vigilant with social distancing, mask wearing, hand washing and following local and nationwide mandates. Act responsibly now so you and your loved ones stay strong and healthy for the time when holiday gatherings don’t risk COVID spread. That’s a holiday gift everyone can give each other with some extra effort and care this year.Related: 10 Signs You’ve Already Had COVID-19