TORONTO — As the holiday season approaches amid a surge in novel coronavirus cases across the country, a Thanksgiving-related spike in Canada may serve as a cautionary tale for the United States.
Case counts in much of Canada are climbing, even in parts of the country that imposed new fall restrictions. Canadians celebrate Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October, and officials in at least three provinces have pointed to the holiday as a culprit.
“We need to pay more attention to those settings where we have people coming together for celebrations,” Bonnie Henry, British Columbia’s provincial health officer, said Monday as she announced new restrictions on private gatherings after a weekend of record new cases.
Before the holiday, officials advised Canadians to curtail their plans, by limiting celebrations to those living under the same roof or moving the party online, but it is not clear how widely the advice was heeded.
In the United States, where Thanksgiving is held on the fourth Thursday in November, officials issued similar warnings. Last week, the United States hit an all-time high in new coronavirus cases, exceeding 80,000 in a day for the first time.
In an interview with CBS News earlier this month, the nation’s leading infectious-disease expert, Anthony S. Fauci, warned that Thanksgiving events could lead to new cases.
“That is, unfortunately, a risk, when you have people coming from out of town, gathering together in an indoor setting,” he said. “It is unfortunate, because that’s such a sacred part of American tradition.”
But in both Canada and the United States, messaging around how to celebrate has been muddled, with officials at different levels of government offering seemingly conflicting guidance. Ontario Premier Doug Ford described his own holiday plans, then appeared to change them after critics pointed out that they contradicted his own government’s advice to celebrate only with those in one’s immediate household.
Canadian officials are now dealing with the aftermath of the holiday. Alberta’s chief medical officer of health, Deena Hinshaw, said last week that the Thanksgiving-related cases showed how the virus can exploit human interaction.
“People did not mean to spread covid-19,” she said. “But it is a reminder that social gatherings where distancing and masking are not used consistently are a significant risk for spread.”
In Ontario, officials logged a record-high number of daily cases over the weekend. The province announced restrictions this month in hard-hit areas, including a 28-day ban on indoor dining.
“I think it’s reasonable to think that part of the surge we’re seeing in Toronto is tied to Thanksgiving,” Eileen de Villa, the city’s medical officer of health, said Monday.
Public health officials in one Toronto suburb issued a notice about a “cluster” of at least 13 coronavirus cases linked to a gathering around Thanksgiving, during which an extended family of 12 shared one residence.
Some family members were symptomatic at the gathering, York Region Public Health said in a news release. One worked while sick, infecting colleagues. Ten family members, including three infants, and people from another household have since tested positive.
Infectious-disease specialists have noted that several elements associated with Thanksgiving — interstate travel, students returning home from college and indoor family gatherings — could fuel the virus’s spread.
In the United States, Thanksgiving is also usually one of the busiest weekends for travel in the year. The Transportation Security Administration reported screening a record 26 million passengers over Thanksgiving in 2018.
Some jurisdictions have issued warnings, with the District of Columbia advising against travel outside the D.C. region and attending or hosting large indoor events with people from outside of your household. California issued new rules that said Thanksgiving dinner should be held outside with no more than three households.
Speaking to CBS, Fauci said that his own family’s Thanksgiving “is going to look very different this year,” as his parents live in three different states and he, at 79 years old, is considered higher risk.