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Traveling for Thanksgiving? COVID-19 risk map can help you plan

From a 10-person dinner in eastern Oregon to a 100-guest wedding in Des Moines, this tool breaks down the chance of coming into contact with an infected person.

BOISE, Idaho — As many people weigh whether to travel for Thanksgiving or meet up with friends and relatives, it can be difficult to know how much risk they face of contracting COVID-19. 

A peer-reviewed mapping tool, created by professors at Georgia Institute of Technology working alongside researchers at the Applied Bioinformatics Laboratory and Stanford University, can help you quantify that risk. 

The COVID-19 Event Risk Assessment Planning Tool shows the likelihood of there being at least one coronavirus-positive person at an event, broken down by U.S. county and gathering size. Map users can hover their cursor over each county to see the percent likelihood, using the scroll bar on the left side of the page to adjust gathering size.

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Going to a 25-person dinner in Salt Lake City, for example, carries a 78% chance that someone at the table is infected with coronavirus. Attending a wedding in Des Moines, Iowa with 100 other people carries a 99% chance, while a get-together with 10 people in Baker City, Oregon drops that risk down to 18%.

The data in the map is updated daily, using documented cases as well as serological studies - the detection of COVID-19 antibodies - to draw a conclusion about the prevalence of the virus in a particular area, even among asymptomatic people. 

The creators of the tool say they hope people will use it to inform their decisions about whether to travel, the size of gatherings they plan, and wearing a mask. The map shows the prevalence of coronavirus as particularly high in Mountain West and Midwest states, with most of Idaho at a 75% likelihood or higher with a 50-person event.

RELATED: 'Things are likely to get worse': COVID-19 hospitalizations remain high in Idaho

Health officials and doctors have urged Idahoans to limit travel and keep group sizes small as the holidays approach. Idaho's coronavirus reopening plan limits gatherings to 50 people or less statewide; a public health order in Ada County sets that limit at 10 people.

Central District Health on Thursday encouraged Idahoans to find lower-risk ways to celebrate Thanksgiving and Christmas.

"No one wants to think that the people closest to them could pose a threat, and it can feel strange wearing a mask and keeping your distance from those you know well," District Directo Russ Duke said. "We recognize it's going to be tough to not host a big family dinner or say 'no' to a holiday party this year, but these scenarios are exactly where COVID is spreading in our communities and we must make choices right now that will protect ourselves and loved ones."

RELATED: School nurses send letters to Boise School Board urging return to virtual learning

Everyone in Idaho - whether they plan to travel, host a gathering, or not - can protect themself and the people they love by getting a flu vaccine, wearing a mask, washing their hands often, staying home if sick, and following social distancing guidelines, CDH says.

"One thing we learned with this year's Halloween, is that many people found new, fun ways to celebrate that were different from their traditional celebrations," Duke said. "We are asking people to do the same – get creative, find new ways to celebrate, and connect with your family and friends that don't involve in-person contact. It's not going to be easy for many of us, but these are only temporary sacrifices to protect our community and those we care most about."

The health district is also urging people to take care of their own mental health and reach out to others who may be struggling.

At KTVB, we’re focusing our news coverage on the facts and not the fear around the virus. To see our full coverage, visit our coronavirus section, here: www.ktvb.com/coronavirus.

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