MILWAUKEE — State officials are urging folks to keep their Thanksgiving limited to the people who live under the same roof, to help prevent COVID-19 from surging even more.
The plea comes on the same day Wisconsin reported its highest single-day death toll from COVID-19. Officials say in the last day, 104 people died due to the coronavirus.
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“Please stay home,” Andrea Palmer, Wisconsin Department of Health Secretary-designee said. “Our situation in Wisconsin is only going to get better if we take steps to change the course of the pandemic. Don’t gather with folks you don’t live with. Going to a friend’s or relative’s, even for Thanksgiving, are risks we can’t take as a state. Celebrate with the people you live with.”
Even Gov. Tony Evers is keeping things low-key. He says, last year, he spent the holiday with his family, including 14 people.
But not this year.
“This year, it’s Kathy and Tony Evers,” the governor said. “That’s it. End of story.”
Overall, the number of positive cases are down slightly from the prior week, but that doesn’t mean Wisconsin is in the clear.
“I think we’re in the most dangerous phase of the pandemic,” Dr. John Raymond, President and CEO of the Medical College of Wisconsin, said. “Because it’s happening in small gatherings. That’s the most difficult situation for us.”
Raymond believes Thanksgiving has the potential to create many super spreader events. Ohio State University released a study saying 38 percent of Americans are planning on attending a Thanksgiving event with 10 or more people from outside of their household.
If that happens in Wisconsin, which is one of the worst states for the pandemic in the country, it could be detrimental to progress.
“Human beings are the host and vector for spreading a lethal silent virus,” Raymond said. “The most important variable is our own behavior.”
If folks take the precautions seriously this week, officials feel Wisconsin could be on the road to recovery. They want to see the number of positive cases continue a downward trend.
“I hope the trend continues,” Dr. Ben Weston with the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management said. “I think the risk is that we’re going into winter, we’re going into Thanksgiving. Hopefully, behaviors have changed. People are distancing more. There are fewer gatherings, whether they’re large or small gatherings. Those aren’t happening. That’s what’s going to drive down our numbers.”
But Dr. Weston hammered home; a negative test today doesn’t mean it’s safe to get together on Thanksgiving.
"Three words that can be so dangerous in the times we’re all finding ourselves,” Weston said. “Those three words are, I feel fine. I’ve heard these three words so many times over the last few months but especially over the last week. I was exposed to someone with COVID but I’m heading to the grocery store because I feel fine. The test came back positive but I’m going to work because I feel fine and, I’m going to Thanksgiving dinner because I feel fine.”
Feeling fine now may make you feel like you are in the clear to enjoy Thanksgiving with friends or family but it could very well lead to your family not being able to enjoy Christmas together, or even result in more empty chairs around the dinner table.
“A recent report out of the [Centers for Disease Control] stated over half of the spread of COVID-19 was from those without symptoms,” Weston said. “This may lead to the question of, who does not have symptoms but who can spread COVID-19? The answer is every single person with the virus. That’s how COVID-19 works.”
In addition, it means staying safe on Wednesday and during Black Friday. With Wednesday being one of the busiest drinking days of the calendar year, more people could be out at bars. In Milwaukee, the Common Council passed an ordinance that could fine bars in violation of COVID-19 protocols, up to $20,000.