Thinking of hosting a small get-together? Think again

Risks can be minimized, but postponing may be the best option, says UB expert Thomas Russo, MD

Release Date: March 27, 2020

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Thomas Russo headshot.
“A common question I’m getting is, ‘I want to have a small group gathering for Easter, can I do it safely?’ The answer is no, you can’t do so with 100 percent certainty. ”
Thomas A. Russo, Professor of medicine, chief, Division of Infectious Disease
Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences

BUFFALO, N.Y. — The coming spring holidays have many people thinking they can bend the rules of social distancing and host or attend a family gathering to celebrate Easter, Passover or Ramadan.

This is not advisable, according to Thomas A. Russo, MD, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases in the Department of Medicine in the Jacobs School of Medicine and Biomedical Sciences at the University at Buffalo, unless a rigorous plan is put in place. Even then, the risk will not be zero, so the importance of the gathering needs to be balanced with potential consequences, especially if some family members are vulnerable and are at risk for a bad outcome if they become infected with the new coronavirus.

“A common question I’m getting is, ‘I want to have a small group gathering for Easter, can I do it safely?’ ” said Russo, a physician with UBMD Internal Medicine. “The answer is no, you can’t do so with 100 percent certainty.”

The reason, he said, is that asymptomatic transmission of the new coronavirus makes it impossible to be sure that you are not infected. As a result, one can minimize, but not completely eliminate, risk.

“It is possible that someone was infected, but not symptomatic. That person could be infectious, even after a 14 day quarantine, because we still don’t know how long someone can shed infectious particles after infection,” Russo explains.

“So if you have close contact, kiss or eat from the same dish, or use the same dishes or share food, the virus could be transmitted from an asymptomatic person in that manner," he said. "It is also possible, albeit rare, that the incubation period could extend beyond 14 days.”

For those individuals who are determined to gather together to break fast on Ramadan, or break out the butter lambs or tzimmes anyway, there are ways to minimize the dangers.

Russo offers these tips:

1.      First, no party member can attend the gathering if they have been previously infected or had close contact with someone who was infected.

2.     All party members need to rigorously quarantine themselves for 14 days. No trips to the store or interactions with anyone else. This is critical and mandatory.

3.     If anyone develops symptoms during the 14-day quarantine period, then that individual and all members from that household cannot participate in the gathering.

4.     During the gathering adopt an in-house distancing strategy.  If you can possibly have people be 6 feet apart, that would be prudent.

5.     No physical contact, such as kissing, talking in close proximity (we all tend to spit when we talk), or sharing of utensils or food from someone else’s plate.

6.     Maintain rigorous hand hygiene, especially after contacting high touch areas such as phones, refrigerator door handles, TV remotes, etc.

“It’s impossible to drive the risk to zero, but these strategies will minimize risk,” Russo said.

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