Central Texas has experienced a surge in new COVID-19 cases in recent weeks, and the Bell County Public Health District (BCPHD) is encouraging families to limit the size of their Thanksgiving gatherings and avoid travel if at al possible to help slow the spread of the virus.

In a news release issued Monday morning, BCPHD Director Dr. Amanda Robison-Chadwell wrote that gatherings associated with Halloween appear to have been the major catalyst for the latest increase across Texas, which now leads the nation in COVID-19 cases.

Due to the surge in cases, BCPHD raised the county's COVID-19 risk level from 3 to 2, signifying significant, uncontrolled community spread. They also believe "COVID fatigue" to be a factor as well, with people dropping their guard, attending more community and family events, and unknowingly contributing to the spread of the virus.

"The upcoming Thanksgiving holiday poses a significant risk of further worsening the spread of COVID-19 within our community as families and friends gather, and people travel to other areas and congregate with people outside their usual network," Dr. Robison-Chadwell wrote. "We know how quickly this virus can move through a household and disrupt everything for a family, and the potential for spread is greatly multiplied when people from different households gather and share a meal, and it is particularly devastating when someone gets severely ill, hospitalized or even faces death due to a family and friends gathering."

Dr. Robison-Chadwell is urging families to limit the size of their Thanksgiving gatherings and minimize travel. She's also asking families that decide to take the risk and have a gathering with people outside of their immediate household find alternative ways to include people who are at high risk due to health conditions or age, such as social media and virtual meeting services. If you do have a gathering, she strongly encourages masking, physical distancing, and eating outdoors if the weather is nice enough for you and your loved ones to do so.

The CDC has a list of recommendations for protecting those most vulnerable to the worst effects of COVID-19.

"During this time of uncontrolled spread, we also strongly encourage you to limit all non-essential and social activities in order to help prevent putting an undue strain on our hospitals, healthcare workers, and essential services, and to try and avoid any further restrictions" Dr. Robison-Chadwell wrote. "No one wants to see another shut down of services in Bell County. In order to avoid that we need your help, which includes more compliance with social distancing, avoidance of gatherings and the use of face coverings."

Personally, I'm responsible for the care of a family member who's particularly vulnerable to the worst complications from COVID-19. I'm hoping that people will consider her and the countless other Texans like her who are at risk.

There's no "ban" on Thanksgiving gatherings in Central Texas. However, there is an opportunity to show some empathy and humanity at this time and consider the health and safety of your friends and neighbors.