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If You Traveled For Thanksgiving, This Is What You Need To Do To Stay Safe

SARAH MCCAMMON, HOST:

The reality, as we've said, is that many people have been traveling and gathering over the last several days. So if you're worried you may have been exposed to the coronavirus over the holiday weekend, what should you do next? Joining us now is Dr. Tsion Firew. She's an emergency physician and professor at Columbia University in New York. Thanks for being with us.

TSION FIREW: Thank you for having me.

MCCAMMON: Dr. Tsion, let's say you couldn't avoid it, and you were on an airplane, or you took a car ride that involved a stop or two along the way. How likely is it that a recent traveler could have just caught the coronavirus?

FIREW: Well, it all depends on the exposures they had. Of course, the airplane and being at the airport poses a higher risk compared to driving in a car by yourself or with somebody that you live with. But I think the chances of people contracting the virus from the airplane ride are also a lot less if they had their mask on. But most people are worried about at the airports. We've seen pictures - crowded airports, lines, people as they're trying to get on the airplane or trying to get off. So if there was anybody symptomatic next to them who's probably coughing or touched the same surface that they touched, the chance of getting the virus from that is much higher.

MCCAMMON: And what should someone do if they're having maybe regrets, maybe just second thoughts about what they've been up to over Thanksgiving? Does everybody who has been in contact need to get a COVID test?

FIREW: So if you know that you were next to a person who was - has COVID or tested positive for COVID, and if that person - also anybody who doesn't know their status, if you were next to somebody who's coughing, I think you're pretty high at risk. With the numbers that we have in the U.S. right now, the chances of it being COVID for anybody that has cold-like symptoms is very, very high. Of course, you can't change what has already happened. But I think it's important for everyone, when they have symptoms, to continue to isolate and get tested immediately and, for 14 days after exposure, to isolate. And if they can't self-isolate and if they're essential workers, the recommendation's for them to get tested and also not to go anywhere and contact with anybody else outside of work.

MCCAMMON: So all the things we've been told to do, but we need to pay even more attention right now, potentially, after this time that could be a big risk for spreading the virus.

FIREW: Yes, for sure. And, of course, you know, most people usually don't get tested over the holidays. And the laboratory are less likely to report the number. So we might see a dip then. But that's not reassuring. Usually, you see the number spikes several days to weeks after the exposure. And of course, we have Christmas and New Year's coming, and the numbers probably are just going to keep on going until January.

MCCAMMON: For weeks, the CDC has been warning everyone to stay home. And we've been told to avoid gathering, as difficult as that is at this time of year. When people don't heed that advice, it is you and your colleagues who have to deal with the influx of patients, the percentage that do get very sick from this virus. How do you feel when you see social media posts or hear about people getting together right now?

FIREW: You know, it's been very frustrating, especially as a New Yorker, somebody who went to the worst part of the virus spread very early on. And we really hoped that most of our colleagues across the country would not witness what we went through. Unfortunately, that was not the case. Personally, I feel like it's just a slap on our face - and not only the people gathering but the people who are in denial of the virus, whether it's politicians or just different public figures who are still in denial of the virus. It's just a complete insult to me and my colleagues. All of us, we're exhausted. We're tired. We are - you know, I don't know if we all have the bandwidth to go through another resurgence and to witness the same numbers that we saw back in March and April. So I know it's just tiring, and it's exhausting for everyone. And the more we rush to go back to normal, the more we're delaying it. So that is a challenge for all our generation. And this is just the challenge that we can overcome by sitting at home.

MCCAMMON: Dr. Tsion Firew with New York's Columbia University, thank you. And thanks for all your work.

FIREW: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF MUSIC) Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.


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