A Tennessee Thanksgiving should be a small, preferably outdoor affair, according to one of Nashville’s leading voices on COVID-19.
Dr. James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College, says ideally, families will only gather in person with their immediate households. He says the stakes have only grown in recent weeks as coronavirus cases escalate to record highs.
“This is the year we should all realize we’re in the middle of a pandemic, for God’s sake,” Hildreth says. “And that requires that we do things differently. If we want to get together next Thanksgiving and have all of our loved ones there — especially the elderly ones — this year we should do it virtually.”
Dr. James Hildreth, president and CEO of Meharry Medical College, which has taken the lead in Nashville’s COVID-19 testing operation. Hildreth has also used his expertise in infectious diseases and as a leading HIV researcher to lead the city’s public health response. In October, he was named to a 20-person panel for the Food and Drug Administration to evaluate the efficacy of COVID-19 vaccines.
Dr. Kelly Moore, an adjunct professor at Vanderbilt University and former epidemiologist for the Tennessee Department of Health. She has chased down epidemics across the world with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention and wrote Tennessee’s first modern pandemic response plan. She’s an external adviser for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine candidate and associate director of education for the Immunization Action Coalition.
Dr. William Schaffner, a Vanderbilt professor in the division of infectious disease and medical director for the National Foundation for Infectious Diseases. He’s been telling people to wash their hands and prevent the spread of influenza for more than 50 years, often on cable news programs. Now he’s helping the country navigate COVID-19. Schaffner is also a non-voting member of the CDC’s Advisory Committee on Immunization Practices that will help shape how a COVID vaccine will be distributed.
Hildreth, Moore and Schaffner answered listener questions as part of an hourlong WPLN News special report on Thursday.
Listener Robin Pope asked if quarantining as a family before a holiday gathering would decrease the risk. Perhaps, Hildreth says, but it would also require everyone to stick to it, which is unlikely.
Listener Jane Speaks of Williamson County asked if coronavirus has turned out to be seasonal, since the latest surge coincides with cooler weather.
Dr. William Schaffner of Vanderbilt University says infectious disease experts had hoped that the coronavirus would have died down during the summer months like influenza, but it didn’t.
“There may be a greater increase in the winter time simply because people are getting closer together indoors for more prolonged periods of time,” Schaffner says. “Some of this second or perhaps third wave is being accelerated by our proximity and our tendency to have COVID fatigue.”
Schaffner says it’s more important than ever that people wear their masks and keep their distance — especially with family gatherings.
Good Vaccine News
A good sign for Pfizer’s COVID-19 vaccine also suggests other companies are on the right track, says Dr. Kelly Moore of Nashville, with the Immunization Action Coalition. Most pharmaceutical companies have targeted the same “spike protein” on the coronavirus, she says.
Moore, who is an external advisor to Pfizer, says the company’s preliminary results of 90% efficacy should give people encouragement to remain vigilant about not getting sick.
“The vaccines are almost here. Next year we’re going to be spending a year vaccinating the U.S. population,” she says. “Hang on a few more weeks because the vaccines are very likely to work better to protect you than natural infection itself.”
See the latest updates on COVID-19 in charts and stories at the WPLN News coronavirus blog, which has been updating since March.
Listen to our first COVID-19 special from March 16. So much has changed.