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R-0 may be the most important scientific term you’ve never heard of when it comes to stopping the coronavirus pandemic.

USA TODAY

Dr. Eric Cioe-Peña and his wife come from large families and typically split the holiday festivities, getting together with one group of relatives for Thanksgiving and another one at Christmas.

This year, they’ll reluctantly keep their distance from both.

“We’re going to have to make sacrifices,” said Cioe-Peña, an emergency room physician and director of Global Health at Northwell Health in New Hyde Park, New York. “My wife and I decided this year’s going to be nuclear family, and we’re not inviting anybody over.”

As the holidays approach and the number of coronavirus cases surge, millions of Americans face the decision whether to eschew traditional gatherings with family and friends or risk spreading the virus among loved ones.

Anthony Fauci, the nation’s foremost authority on infectious diseases, and Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, warned about the potential for a spike in infections stemming from holiday parties, even if they’re small and only among relatives.

Memorial Day get-togethers were partly blamed for an increase in COVID-19 cases the USA experienced early in the summer. Events such as a Sweet 16 party late last month in Long Island, New York – linked to 37 positive tests – and a wedding in August in Maine – which led to more than 175 infections – underscore the danger of relatively small social functions turning into superspreaders.

Last week, health officials in the Washington area said small gatherings have been a factor in the region hitting a two-month high in coronavirus cases.

“All along, there have been issues about attending weddings, funerals, religious gatherings and other events that are part of our normal life,” said Dr. Steven Woolf, director emeritus of the Center on Society and Health at Virginia Commonwealth University. “They bring people together and potentially become vectors for the virus. As many public health experts mention, the virus is attending these events and can be transmitted from person to person.”

The traditional gatherings of relatives and friends during Thanksgiving and other holidays are a source of concern for public health experts, who fear they may lead to a spike in coronavirus cases. (Photo: Getty Images / skynesher)

Don’t let the virus get to Grandma

The CDC, which discourages traditional trick-or-treating this Halloween, updated its guidance Monday about holiday celebrations with advice on how to reduce risk of infection.

The tips for in-person gatherings include commonly known mitigation measures such as holding events outdoors, limiting their size, having participants wear masks and maintaining social distance. The CDC encourages hosts to request that guests avoid contact with people from outside their household for two weeks before the activity.

Safe inside: Fauci warns against Thanksgiving celebrations: How to stay safe indoors from the coronavirus during cold seasons?

The impracticality of some of the safety measures – it’s hard to fit everybody at a table 6 feet apart