Oklahoma doctors weigh in on holidays with your unvaccinated relatives

TULSA, Okla. — Some Oklahoma doctors are offering solutions now to people who are trying to plan for a Thanksgiving with vaccinated and unvaccinated family members possibly sitting at the same table.

The Healthy Oklahoma Coalition, sponsored by the Oklahoma State Medical Association, said there are some high risk activities some families could unintentionally partake in that could increase exposure to COVID-19 even if cases are down from their peak last summer when the Delta variant hit.

“You have a lot of people sitting close together, and they can’t be masked because obviously they’re eating,” Dr. Jean Hausheer said.

Hausheer, Dr. Stan Schwartz, and Dr. Mary Clarke, current President of the OSMA, said families should not fight about who is and is not vaccinated, but those who are uneasy about the meal should not be afraid to speak out that they want better protection.

“I told one of my patients who is worried about spreading COVID and possibly having unvaccinated family members in their house to use me as an excuse,” Clarke said. “If they are really bothered by it, just put that burden on me and say ‘my doctor says I can’t do it’.”

Clarke said as the Thanksgiving holiday approaches more patients have been asking about how to handle the debate between vaccinated and unvaccinated members of a family coming together at the same table. While talk of politics and sports teams can often get heated in such a setting, she is concerned that COVID will come with extra heat and tempers could easily flare far more than talking about something like Presidential candidates.

“I would approach it with caution because we’re also dealing with a mental health aspect to it,” Clarke said. “This is the first Thanksgiving with extended family for many people, and many have missed their loved ones and feel very inconvenienced by all of this. The last thing they want is to get into a high energy disagreement that can really continue to emotional toll they are facing because of COVID.”

Clarke said at the end of the day hosts and guests need to kindly proceed in the way they feel is best, even if that means declining to attend the meal.

“You can have Thanksgiving other days,” she said. “It’s just that Thursday is the day we choose every year to do this. You can have a family meal again in the near future when you feel you are ready.”

Dr. Stan Schwartz said the issue of vaccinated versus unvaccinated at the dinner table gets further complicated if a family member has travelled from a long distance.

“If you have a family member who just flew in from Vermont, where cases are climbing, and you are concerned about that family members also possibly being unvaccinated, you need to do what’s best for you and try to find a way to properly address the concerns you have for your safety,” he said.

Schwartz said there are some simple solutions that don’t involve throwing your loved ones out on the street. He suggests holding the meal later in the day when it gets warmer and the windows can be opened. He said a constant exchange of fresh air could be very good for a family that has mixed vaccinations statuses. He also reminded the public that rapid tests are available, and it is possible to get families tested for COVID early on Wednesday and find out by Wednesday night or Thursday morning if they are carrying the virus.