How risky is gathering in-person for Thanksgiving? DU scientist explains


DENVER (KDVR) — New research developed by a University of Denver professor is providing insight into why public health officials are sounding the alarm on in-person Thanksgiving gatherings. Alex Huffman, a DU associate professor of chemistry and biochemistry, has been busy calculating transmission risk.

As an aerosol scientist, Huffman has been studying virus in the air. In July, he adopted a widely-used model to analyze COVID-19 transmission risk in classrooms at the University of Denver. Now his focus is on Thanksgiving.

“Over the last week or so I’ve been especially stressed,” Huffman said.

He said he’s stressed over reports of people openly admitting they plan to buck public health recommendations and physically gather.

“It’s really risky,” he warned. “And this is not a surprise, honestly.”

Huffman’s calculations involve room size, number of people, ventilation and duration.

Here’s what Huffman discovered: In a medium sized dining room with ten people seated for a Thanksgiving meal for two hours– if one person is infected– there’s roughly a 60 to 80 percent chance that someone else will be going home as newly infected. This is because people can’t wear masks when eating and drinking.

Huffman later clarified, “That assuming everyone who walks in has the same chance of already being infected as the average for the rest of that community, with 10 people and two hours, there is a 60% chance someone else will leave infected … And [if] that person is a super spreader, essentially everyone will be infected.”

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