A Tale of Two Holidays

Thanksgiving and Christmas have impacted COVID differently.


Art by Ria Maisano-Torres

Where the lack of COVID-19 case increase following Thanksgiving gave hope for similar following of health recommendations and rules, recent data from the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) has been sobering.

Data reported by the DOH showed a state-wide increase in confirmed cases a week after December 25th, reversing a downward trend that occurred throughout December. Washington’s COVID levels are still down from October and November, but the increase contrasts with what was seen after Thanksgiving.

“As we go into the holiday season, I want to thank all Washingtonians who figured out a way to celebrate Thanksgiving safely, and thousands and thousands of Washingtonians did,” said Governor Jay Inslee at a December 13th news conference. 

After Thanksgiving, health officials in Washington State noted they did not see an increase in positive cases that would have been present in people had gathered in large groups. 

Gatherings could account for a large difference between Christmas and Thanksgiving, though the rise is hard to specifically link to indoor gatherings, which were prohibited in repeated announcements by Governor Inslee on November 15th and December 8th.

Travel has been a cause of increased cases as well. According to TSA data, one million people in the United States traveled through airports each day from December 18th to the 24th. This data, however, is not reported in state-specific numbers and Governor Inslee was hopeful that Washington residents would not follow national trends.

“We have found, happily, that our recommendations on travel advisory appears to have an effect in the state of Washington more so than other places,” Governor Inslee said during a December 8th news conference. 

Total tests administered 2-7 days before Christmas also rose by 27 percent in King County from the first of December. This could indicate Washington travelers took precautions required for interstate traveling. Hawaii, a popular spot for travelers looking to escape winter weather, required presentation of a negative COVID test upon arrival to avoid a quarantine period and saw 24,607 self-identified vacationers from December 21st to the 24th (Hawaii DOH). They have reported a rise in cases following the holidays.

The increased number of tests administered could also indicate that some chose to test before gathering with people outside their household, a hypothesis underscored by the significant decrease in positive test percentage during the same period. 

Within Washington, travel doesn’t appear to have had significant effects on virus transmission rates. Both Spokane and Island county are popular travel destinations, neither of which saw an increase in COVID-19 cases after the 25th.