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The most vulnerable should stay in place this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving this COVID-19 pandemic year will be unlike what most of us have ever experienced. Starting with the “we gather together” part.

With that in mind, the Michigan Department of Health and Human Services on Monday offered some celebration guidance for vulnerable populations to help ensure their health and safety and prevent the spread of coronavirus.

“While we are advising everyone to avoid Thanksgiving gatherings beyond their own households, it’s especially critical that residents of nursing homes and other group homes remain in their homes during the holiday,” MDHHS Director Robert Gordon said. “If these individuals contract COVID while traveling, they run the risk of bringing it back to others who are especially vulnerable to illness and death. This year, please celebrate Thanksgiving by Zoom or by phone, and next year’s Thanksgiving will be better.”

Last Wednesday, MDHHS issued an epidemic order that limited indoor gatherings to no more than two households. This order does not prohibit residents from leaving a care facility; however, it is recommended that:

— Residents be strongly encouraged to stay in place, especially in light of increasing prevalence of COVID-19 cases;

— Providers and direct care staff educate residents and their family and friends on the associated risk of leaving a care facility and attending gatherings, as well as the steps they should take to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19;

–Providers encourage residents to stay connected with loved ones through alternative means of communication, such as phone and video calls;

Care facilities should follow recommended protocols to mitigate the spread of COVID-19 if a resident chooses to leave the care facility, even after being provided such counseling, by —

— Limiting close contact (maintaining physical distancing of 6 feet or more), adhering to the gathering restrictions in the Nov. 18 order and using technology to engage with others remotely.

— Wearing a facemask or cloth face covering at all times — including in cars and homes — unless actively eating or drinking, or medical exemptions apply.

— Limiting contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items.

— Keeping safe around food and drinks. Avoid communal serving utensils, passing of food and potluck or buffet-style food service, and instead opt for individually prepared plates by a single server.

— Washing hands with soap and water or alcohol-based hand sanitizer often.

— Avoiding large gatherings, crowded areas and high-risk activities such as singing.

— For those attending a gathering, avoid contact with individuals outside of their household for 14 days before the gathering if possible and follow MDHHS’s guidance for safe social gatherings.

— Asking anyone who has signs or symptoms of COVID-19 or has been exposed to someone diagnosed with COVID-19, to not attend the gathering.

— If possible, by conducting gatherings outdoors. Indoor gatherings should have good ventilation; consider opening windows and doors if possible.

— Verbally greeting others instead of shaking hands or giving hugs. Think ahead about how you will manage to prevent physical interactions with loved ones of different ages, such as young children.

All residents who leave the care facility should be screened upon return. If symptomatic, the individual’s health care provider or the local health department should be contacted to determine if quarantine is warranted.

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