AUSTIN, Texas — As Thanksgiving get-togethers come to a close, Black Friday lines usually start to form in front of big-box stores across the country.
Texas has pleasant enough weather to continue shopping outside, which doctors say is a benefit for keeping the spread of coronavirus to a minimum.
"That two-week period right after Thanksgiving is going to be critical," Dr. Ogechika Alozie, a member of the Texas Medical Association COVID-19 Task Force, said. "We talk about bars and restaurants and places that on average don't hold up to 50 people. Black Friday brings with it the consideration of 200, 300, 500 people in the same space – maybe they're not wearing a mask."
Alozie was one of the doctors at the forefront of creating a holiday activity risk guideline for TMA. He works in El Paso, which saw huge spikes of COVID-19 over the past few weeks. Shopping outside and hosting a large gathering with family and friends for the holidays rank the same: "Moderate-High Risk."
"Any time that you're engaged in an activity that has large crowds, would be called congregate settings, you're at risk," Alozie said. "The crowds bunching together the potential struggle for those Black Friday deals, those are things, almost like alcohol, that change human behavior."
For the sake of direct comparison, both Alozie and Austin-based ER doctor Natasha Kathuria say the risk of spreading the coronavirus is more likely at a large Thanksgiving gathering than shopping outside.
"It's hard to tell whether Black Friday as a singular event will be a catalyst compared to Thanksgiving holidays or Christmas holidays," Alozie said. "Inasmuch as Black Friday may be a concern, the reality is that you don't get a million people going into a big-box store the same way you get a million people traveling."
"Obviously we have concerns about Thanksgiving because it's indoor close family get-togethers, which are one of our primary methods of transmitting this virus," Kathuria said. "We're really hoping that people go more towards online shopping to get their deals, do more Cyber Monday kind of deals than in-person shopping, because any indoor gathering of people, especially more than 10 people, which is essentially every store right now, is just a risky thing to be doing."
Stores across the country already have COVID-19 rules in place to limit the number of patrons. Doctors say the bottom line is people are going to get together, shop together anyway, so guidelines will help people stay as safe as possible.
"That's why the Texas Medical Association has come up with a risk chart," Alozie said. "Abstinence didn't work in the '80s and '90s around HIV and 'holiday abstinence' shouldn't be the only answer that we have around Thanksgiving, Christmas. We have to give people reasonable options."
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