Nov. 19 (UPI) -- Officials at the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday urged Americans not to travel for the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday in order to limit the spread of COVID-19.
The "strong recommendation" was made as the agency published updated guidelines for holiday travel and gatherings on its web site in response to the "surge in new cases, hospitalizations and deaths" across the country, according to Dr. Henry Walke.
"We're alarmed about the exponential [increases]," said Walke, incident manager at the CDC.
"COVID-19 is turning out to be a formidable foe and we need to be united in our efforts to fight this virus," he said during a conference call with reporters on Thursday.
The new guidance is effectively an update of earlier recommendations published by the agency on Nov. 11, according to Dr. Erin Sauber-Schatz, of the CDC's Community Intervention and Critical Population Task Force.
Those earlier guidelines did not necessarily suggest limiting travel or the size of holiday gatherings, she said.
However, with more than 1 million new cases across the United States since the initial guidelines were published, the agency felt it needed to introduce stronger recommendations, the officials said.
In addition to recommending against travel for the holidays, the new guidance offers more details on what constitutes a "household," according to Sauber-Schatz.
Household members -- or those "actively living with you" over the past 14 days -- can safely gather, without wearing masks or social distancing, she said.
However, college students returning home for the holidays -- or military service members on leave -- would need to take safety precautions, unless they have self-isolated for 14 days in preparation for seeing loved ones, the CDC said.
Precautions include gathering with others outdoors, when possible; wearing masks when around others; maintaining six feet of distance from others; and, when possible, sleeping in separate rooms and using different bathrooms from household members, according to the agency.
Those who do opt to travel should wear masks in "public settings and on public transportation" -- including airplanes -- and practice social distancing and wash their hands often, Walke said.
In addition, those with any COVID-19 symptoms should not travel or gather with others outside of their household, and instead quarantine for at least 14 days and get tested for the virus, Sauber-Schatz said.
The agency officials acknowledged that many of their recommendations would be difficult to implement for Thanksgiving, given that the holiday is a week away and many have already made travel plans.
However, the country saw spikes in COVID-19 cases and deaths after holidays such as Memorial Day and Labor Day earlier this year, according to Walke.
The goal of the new guidance is not only to protect those traveling for the holidays from infection, but to also prevent them from spreading the disease to older, more vulnerable family members who may be at risk for more serious illness, he said.
"Americans need to consider the safest way to celebrate holidays" in the midst of the pandemic, Walke said, adding that he hasn't seen his own elderly parents since January.
"There's reason for hope -- we're all excited about the news regarding a vaccine -- but it's not here yet and we are [still] in a tough time," he said.