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Online Tool Helps Assess COVID Risk at Holiday Gatherings

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Public health officials in Utah and elsewhere are discouraging large gatherings to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, to avoid the spread of COVID-19. (deagreez/Adobe Stock)
Public health officials in Utah and elsewhere are discouraging large gatherings to celebrate the Thanksgiving holiday, to avoid the spread of COVID-19. (deagreez/Adobe Stock)
November 25, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY - Public health officials continue to discourage large gatherings for this Thanksgiving, but it's hard to tell how big is too big.

If you're planning to host or attend a holiday event, how do you evaluate the risk of acquiring or spreading COVID-19?

Scientists at Georgia Tech University have developed an Event Risk Assessment Tool to calculate the probability that someone with the virus might show up at your dinner table.

Utah State Epidemiologist Dr. Angela Dunn said the tool is available online and can estimate risk with just a couple of mouse clicks.

"For example," said Dunn, "if you live in Salt Lake County and you have 15 people coming over for Thanksgiving, there's over a 50% chance that one of those individuals will have COVID. Which then, of course, magnifies the ability for COVID to spread beyond that group of 15 and into the community."

Dunn said the tool uses current data from each county, the number of people at the event and the current rate of infection.

Officials warn while such a tool can be helpful, people should still observe standard pandemic precautions - wear a mask, wash your hands, and keep a social distance.

The advice comes amid reports that 26 of the state's 29 counties are considered "high-transmission areas," and Utah's positive test rate is at a seven day average of 23.6%. Officials recommend - but do not require - Utahns to limit group gatherings to only the people living in their home.

Dunn said anyone considering a larger get-together should, at the very least, know the risk.

"I really encourage individuals, if you're thinking about going to an event or having an event at your home for the holidays, looking at that tool," said Dunn. "Using it for how many people are going to be at your event, what county you live in. And it'll help you understand that risk of somebody having COVID at that event."

Other online sources of data for holiday decision-making include a slightly different COVID risk tool developed by the Alpert Medical School at Brown University, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention's COVID Data Tracker.

Mark Richardson, Public News Service - UT