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Salt Lake County health officials issue a blunt warning about Thanksgiving gatherings

“Thanksgiving leftovers won’t taste as good if you’re on a ventilator. In fact, if you’ve got COVID-19, they probably won’t taste like anything at all,” the post reads.

A text box notes that a dinner guest at the head of the table has been infected for nine days. “No symptoms and feeling great!” it reads. “Has infected 24 people so far.”

The basic idea behind the campaign, according to David Skorut, multimedia coordinator with the health department, was: “If you’re reading this post, it applies to you.”

The public health messages shared on social media include stock images of families and friends in groups, and they come as officials across the country urge people to stay home to stop the spread of the virus. Governors and mayors are issuing new restrictions. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention last week announced that it’s recommending against travel or gathering for the holiday.

Few warnings have been as blunt as those shared in recent days by the Salt Lake County Health Department.

One post reminds people of the definition of a “household.” Another shows a group of six, smiling and laughing with drinks in their hands, and describes unseen details that could put the individuals or their loved ones at further risk: One guest has asthma, another has a baby on the way, and another has a mother with cancer.

One of the guests is asymptomatic but has been infected for nine days. The guest to his left, the hypothetical scenario reads, is high-risk and will die of complications related to covid-19.

“Have a virtual Thanksgiving to help make sure you don’t have to go to any virtual funerals,” the tweet reads.

“We believe it’s pretty obvious that people know face masks, social distancing, good hygiene, but we also know people are tired of just hearing the same message,” Gary Edwards, the department’s executive director, said in an interview. “So to be able to have the same message but show it graphically, pictorially, in an image that will resonate with people looking at it — we thought maybe that will help reinforce what we need to be doing.”

The county, which has had a total of 74,269 coronavirus cases, reported 8,588 cases for the seven days ending Monday, according to data tracked by The Washington Post. In the state of Utah overall, there has been a 13 percent uptick in daily cases in the seven days ending Monday, compared with the previous week.

Gov. Gary R. Herbert (R) said during a news conference last week that he would extend a mask mandate that was set to expire Monday but would not extend restrictions on inter-household gatherings.

“What you do in the confines of our own home is going to be up to you, but we also are giving strong recommendations of how you conduct that in a safe environment,” he said.

In a Monday tweet, Herbert encouraged people to gather only with members of their households.

“This year, the best way to show your family and friends you love them is by staying home and having a private celebration with those you live with — instead of gathering in larger groups,” he wrote.

Skorut said the communications team that created the posts said some people have commented that they have canceled or adjusted plans after seeing the messages. Spanish-language posts also have been shared.

Edwards said officials will begin to understand the effects of Thanksgiving and any gatherings on the crisis 10 to 14 days later, taking into account the time for people to take coronavirus tests.

“Our worry with the holiday season is that any progress we may have made over the past couple of weeks, we may end up losing that progress,” he said.

Edwards hopes the public health messages will remind people about the potential consequences of their actions.

“Whether that is an action that we decide, ‘I’m not going to get together with my extended family. Though I will miss them, I think it’s safer,’ that has a positive collective” reaction, he said. “Or the opposite, ‘I’m going to attend, I’m not going to worry about wearing a face covering, I may be ill and not know it, others may be ill and not know it.’ That individual action has a negative reaction on other people.”

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