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COVID Risk Assessment Tool Will Show How Risky Your Holiday Plans Are (Or Not)

The tool shows you just how likely someone at your upcoming events is to have COVID based on county and testing data.

Georgia Institute of Technology

Are you planning on gathering with your extended family or people outside of your COVID-19 quarantine pod for Thanksgiving? A new interactive tool out of the Georgia Institute of Technology will reveal just how risky your planned events or holiday gatherings are by location and number of folks coming over for the holiday turkey (or whatever you’re eating, to be fair.)

The tool uses available data — and assumes that there are likely five times as many cases as actually being reported in real-time — to help you figure out just how risky your gathering might be if it happens in the continental United States (Hawaii, Alaska, and Puerto Rico aren’t featured on the map).

The risk level, in this case, is the estimated chance from 1 to 100 percent that at least one person with COVID-19 will be at the event — based on county positivity data and event size. 

The data is wonderfully complete — if scary. For example, if I were to host a dinner party of 10 people in Dallas County indoors with absolutely no social distancing, there would be a 19 percent chance that someone at the event has COVID-19, and that dinner party could become an outbreak. 

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The tool is very clear that the individual risk that someone having COVID and going to an event might carry would be significantly lowered by engaging in the safety measures that have been pummeled into our heads ad nauseam since March.

Indeed, while no Thanksgiving dinner party that features people outside of your household or quarantine pod will be zero risk, the risk of contracting or spreading COVID would be lowered by wearing a mask, staying more than six feet apart from one another, and by doing the event outside. The tool also can’t account for folks who did the right thing and quarantined for two weeks ahead of their Thanksgiving festivities — a call that health experts have suggested is one of the only ways to ensure that Thanksgiving will be a safe affair for all involved.

But obviously, the tool isn’t just for Thanksgiving. Are you thinking of attending a football game? A small concert? Going to a wedding? And the tool definitely has limitations in itself. Think of the Maine wedding in which 177 people, none of whom attended the wedding itself, got sick, and seven people died from the virus, too. The effects of any gathering you might choose to attend over the holidays, for a loved one, or indoors could ripple out to your entire community and lead to many deaths and illnesses. These risks aren’t calculated by the tool — which might be helpful — but still is incomplete. 

As suggested above, there are few ways to ensure a fully safe Thanksgiving, and there is no way to ensure a safe wedding, concert, football game, or more, as COVID-19 ravages the country and as ICU’s are full and hospital beds nowhere to be found. First, you can have your holiday meal with only the people who live in your household. Second, Folks who wanted to have a fully safe Thanksgiving should have begun quarantining on Thursday, November 12. Third, you can enact social distancing rules, keep your Thanksgiving group small, stay outdoors, and wear masks.

But no event is totally risk-free. Should you decide to see Grandma and Grandpa for stuffing and sides, make sure that you and your family are aware of that fact — and the calculated, percentage driven risk of what you’re about to do.