Bay Area residents assess COVID-19 risk ahead of Thanksgiving travel, gatherings

SAN JOSE, Calif. (KGO) — There are just two weeks until Thanksgiving Day, marking the second holiday season under the COVID-19 pandemic.

A big difference this year is the added protection of vaccines and boosters to better our chances of staying healthy. However, even with the added layer of protection, health experts say there is still a level of risk when traveling and gathering.

“It really depends on where you’re going and how much the infection rates are locally,” infectious disease expert Dr. Yvonne Maldonado with Stanford Health Care told ABC7 News. “Wherever you’re traveling and who you’re going to be with.”

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Dr. Maldonado shared, “The one thing I can put to rest right off the bat is the airport and the airplanes. Airplanes are super safe. We know that people have to wear masks on the plane. And really, in the end, the planes themselves are very well cared for.”

She warned, the best practice on the plane is wearing a mask.

ABC7 News met Nicholas Mann at Mineta San Jose International Airport (SJC) on Thursday.

For the Hayward resident, he said assessing risk means asking questions.

“Most of the things we do are around group activities anyway. So we take the pulse of the collective and say, ‘Are we gonna do this,’ Mann explained. “Are we okay with getting eight of us together? Where has everyone been? You okay? There’s babies involved, you know, so there’s a lot to factor in.”

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He added, even questioning your own comfort level. The ongoing pandemic has changed plans for Mann’s parents. He said, they’ll be packing up the car and avoiding air travel altogether.

“It’s kind of a bummer, because it’s eight hours, when they could just hop on a one-hour flight and be up here like normal,” Mann said. “But they feel more comfortable driving.”

Vaccinated Stanford University student Brian Wu said he’s evaluated the risk and has traveled several times since becoming vaccinated.

He plans to take extra precaution, knowing his grandparents and the rest of his family will be waiting on the East Coast.

“What I plan to do is to take advantage of the flexible testing capability on campus, and just take a COVID test every day for the week leading up to my flight back home to New York,” Wu shared.

He continued, “That’s not as much of a risk compared to one year ago, because of this high degree of vaccination in our community.”

Wu said ever since he got vaccinated, he’s been very comfortable with traveling.

“I’ve taken many trips, some for visiting family, some for work. And at no point have I felt like I was afraid of me catching COVID, or a potential outbreak,” he said. “Because not only was I fully vaccinated, I was also taking precautions like wearing a mask on the flight and making sure to sanitize everything.”

Additionally, when Wu gets back to the Bay Area, Stanford University already has published guidance for its students. They’ve posted a list of protocols that will impact anyone who travels and returns to campus.

Dr. Maldonado acknowledged there are different guidelines for different groups – understanding why universities would establish protocols.

“We know there can be breakthrough infections,” she said. “And actually, most breakthrough infections are likely to be asymptomatic. So people could accidentally bring back infection into a closed community.”

Dr. Maldonado added, “We’re going to be traveling far and wide and join family, friends, and even strangers. So we want to make sure that when we all come back together, we don’t have a super spreader event.”

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