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South Florida doctors urge caution ahead of Thanksgiving as COVID-19 cases surge

'We have to exercise caution," pulmonologist Dr. Luis Pena says
Posted at 1:38 PM, Nov 19, 2020
and last updated 2020-11-19 13:38:18-05

WEST PALM BEACH, Fla. — Despite promising news about two effective COVID-19 vaccines, a pair of South Florida doctors are urging people not to let their guard down, especially as we head into the busy holiday season.

WPTV anchor Mike Trim hosted a Facebook Live question and answer session on Thursday with Dr. Ramprasad Gopalan, an infectious disease specialist, and Dr. Luis Pena, a pulmonologist and critical care medicine physician.

Both doctors agreed a recent spike in COVID-19 cases both in Florida and nationwide can be attributed to lax behavior among the public, including not wearing face coverings and not practicing social distancing, along with more sectors of our economy reopening.

"I think we've reached a point of pandemic fatigue to a degree. I think people have been eager and ready to start going back to their normal lives," Dr. Pena said. "But that process has also been associated with exposure to others, to more risks of crowds of people."

"Wear a mask, washing your hands, keeping your distance will still work," Dr. Gopalan said. "We still need to follow those common, simple, basic principles."


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The doctors called a pair of promising COVID-19 vaccines from Pfizer and Moderna "groundbreaking," but cautioned the public not to have a false sense of security.

"People need to know that those vaccines are not going to work immediately," Dr. Pena said. "The immune system is going to take a certain time. It's still yet to be determined how long. I'm thinking it's going to be a few weeks, or probably around four weeks."

In addition to the body taking time to develop antibodies to ward off the virus, the doctors said COVID-19 particles will still be present in our communities.

"For all the people who think we're gonna get the vaccine and we return to normalcy, or whatever the normalcy was prior to the arrival of this disease, it's not gonna happen anytime soon," Dr. Gopalan.

On Thursday, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended that people not travel for Thanksgiving, and instead only "celebrate at home with the people you live with."

Dr. Gopalan said if you're thinking about taking part in a holiday gathering, consider how many people will be there, what kind of exposure they've had to COVID-19, and whether you have any underlying medical conditions that could put you at risk.

"I think it is safe to skip this year. I know it's hard to say that, but nothing is more important than you," Dr. Gopalan said. "Your health will carry you through many, many more Thanksgivings."

"As a society, we have to exercise caution and we have to exercise some sort of discipline and awareness," Dr. Pena said. "If we do things right, I think we're all gonna end up with the benefits in our family, in our community, in our society."