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Families prepare for second Thanksgiving in the middle of a pandemic

With vaccines available and cases leveling out, families are excited to be able to gather again for the holiday. Health experts warn not to let your guard down.

GREENSBORO, N.C. — For the second year, Thanksgiving will fall in the middle of a pandemic and has some families prepare to gather, Triad health experts say there is a safe way to celebrate.

"If everyone's vaccinated in the family this year for the holiday season, I would have a worry-free holiday," said Dr. Christopher Ohl, with Atrium Health Wake Forest Baptist.

With the vaccine now available and the state’s COVID positivity rate leveling off above 5%, North Carolina and the Triad are in a different place than in 2020

The line at Honey Baked Ham Co. in Greensboro was out of the door Wednesday as families prepared for Thanksgiving

“We were here picking up a ham for our Thanksgiving feast tomorrow,” said Ditrix Whatley. (We) just (came) in from Shaker Heights, Ohio visiting my wife’s mother.”

Ditrix said they haven’t visited Greensboro since 2019 before the pandemic hit.

“It’s a whole different world that we live in today,” said Ditrix, “but you know, we’re doing the best we can.”

He said his family is thankful to be able to gather again this morning and spend time with his 93-year-old mother-in-law.

“Well it’s a blessing it’s a wonderful thing and we’re extremely pleased to be here on such a beautiful Thanksgiving week.”

Jessie Ressau and Ashton Flores were in downtown Greensboro Wednesday as Flores visited family in the area.

“We are so excited about it,” said Flores. “We got off a day early from work because we got to go hang out with my little brothers go see my dad it feels great.”

Ressau said not being able to get together last year was hard.”

“It felt very isolating last year to not be able to connect with everybody (and) doing it virtually,” Ressau said, “but this year you get to give the hugs and all that, so we're excited.”

Others like Jerry Mills, who was also picking up food at Honey Baked Ham Co., said his family gathered last year and will again Thursday as well.

“We’re having a big gathering. We all do it every year,” said Mills. “It’s about 25 of us.”

RELATED: Five things to know ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday

News 2 checked in with several Triad hospitals about what they recommend for Thanksgiving gatherings.

Should I get tested before gathering with my family?

Dr. David Priest with Novant Health said it’s really a matter of personal choice and how much risk you are willing to take on.

Priest said if you are vaccinated, not immunocompromised and not showing any COVID symptoms, you don’t need to get a test.

“However I think if you’re in a situation where you have individuals in your family that are immunosuppressed or elderly or had organ transplants or other things that affect the immune system where they may not be as protected, even if they were vaccinated, if you want to have the ultimate peace of mind and want to make sure they are protected, then consideration of a test within 72 hours of visiting them would be an extra step to take,” Priest said.

Dr. Cynthia Snider with Cone Health recommends getting a quick 15-minute antigen test before gathering with others during the holiday season. However, she said the safest recommendation is to not gather with family members who are not part of your "social bubble family."

Should children unable to get vaccinated (under 5 years old) gather indoors?

Health experts recommend children under five who are not vaccinated stay masked while indoors unless they are eating.

“You might want to modify how you get together a bit for the holidays, but there are ways to do it,” said Ohl.

Ohl said spending more time outside during the holiday can be a healthy alternative.

“If you surround those kids with vaccinated people, then it's a cocoon of safety around them and that increases the safety of getting together,” Ohl said.

Do I need my booster before gathering?

COVID-19 boosters are now approved for everyone over the age of 18. Dr.Snider said they have seen fewer breakthrough COVID infections among people who have received their booster.

RELATED: Staying COVID safe this Thanksgiving | 2 Your Well-Being

LATEST COVID-19 DATA FROM NCDHHS

Wednesday, Nov. 24, 2021 

  • Newly reported cases: 2,318
  • Daily percent positive: 5.9%
  • Currently hospitalized: 1,113
  • Percent of adult population vaccinated with at least one dose: 72% 
  • Percent of adult population fully vaccinated: 68% 

Cone Health was caring for around 130 COVID-19 patients right before Thanksgiving in 2020. This year, the hospital is caring for about 60 COVID-19 patients before Thanksgiving. 

As of Wednesday, approximately 57% of North Carolina's total population is fully vaccinated, compared to 0% on this date last year when vaccines still weren't available.