Massachusetts Health & Hospital Association

Infectious Disease Experts Call on Public to Limit Holiday Travel

Quotation marks with an EKG symbol

With testing demand surging across the commonwealth right ahead of Thanksgiving, healthcare leaders and infectious disease specialists are calling on Massachusetts residents to follow public health guidance and avoid holiday travel. 

“Think about the health of your friends and family this year. Think of those who have been on the front lines of this battle for the past eight months. Changing beloved holiday traditions won’t be easy, but it’s necessary to save lives and prevent healthcare facilities from being overwhelmed,” said Patricia Noga, PhD, RN, NEA-BC, FAAN, Vice President of Clinical Affairs for MHA. “We must all hold each other accountable in the coming weeks.”

Infectious disease leaders throughout the state are especially alarmed by the sudden spike in testing demand over the past weekend, which they worry may indicate that many individuals are traveling in or out of Massachusetts for Thanksgiving. Healthcare leaders are pleased to see residents continuing to utilize testing resources as needed, but this most recent uptick in testing is concerning given the timing of the holiday.

“COVID-19 will not take the holidays off, and nor should our adherence to basic public health measures,” added Rochelle Walensky, MD, Chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital. “As someone who has seen first-hand how easily this virus spreads and the devastation it can cause, I strongly urge you to limit your travel and the size of your holiday gathering this Thanksgiving. Having more than your immediately family – your current ‘pod’ – at your table is not a recipe for stuffing, it’s a recipe for disaster.”

This call for limiting travel plans comes on the heels of a joint letter published this morning, which is signed by nearly 100 Chief Medical Officers and Chief Nursing Officers and urges the general public to celebrate the holidays safely.

“Some people are not heeding the warning that with the increasing surge of COVID-19 around the country it is not safe to travel for Thanksgiving. A negative COVID-19 test doesn’t mean you will be virus-free at the Thanksgiving table and you could become infected after the test during your travels. Families should think long and hard about their plans for Thursday as health experts reinforce what they have been saying for a while – even small family gatherings could result in massive spreading of the virus here at home and nationwide,” said Armando Paez, MD chief, Infectious Disease Division, Baystate Health.

“A COVID-19 test represents only a single point in time,” said Helen Boucher, MD, Chief of Infectious Diseases at Tufts Medical Center. “A negative test result does not guarantee that you won’t become infectious tomorrow, a few days from now or when gathering with family for Thanksgiving. Unfortunately, there is a tremendous risk for a perfect storm of COVID-19 suffering and death in the weeks following the holiday. This year, I urge everyone to wear masks and give your loved ones the gift of a distanced Thanksgiving, so we have the best opportunity to all be together again to celebrate the holidays next year.”

“In addition to limiting holiday gatherings and travel, public health measures such as social distancing, wearing a mask and washing your hands continue to be crucial to keeping our facilities open and our system strong as we fight the current surge in cases,” said Steve Walsh, President and CEO of MHA. “We join the Baker Administration in promoting these small actions as the most powerful ways that we can #GetBackMass.”