MILWAUKEE - As Wisconsin approaches a crucial time in the COVID-19 pandemic with the winter months approaching and the holiday season underway, Milwaukee city and county leaders urge residents to be cautious.
Health officials say that the pandemic has shown a pattern that positive COVID-19 cases tend to rise immediately following a holiday.
It has been a long journey for everyone since the pandemic began in March. Still, city and county leaders say the pandemic is entering new territory.
"COVID-19 is spreading fast around our community and across the nation," said Milwaukee Mayor Tom Barrett. "This holiday season it’s really better to be safe than sorry."
Health officials say that colder weather is approaching, which increases the likelihood of indoor gatherings. Several holidays typically spent indoors with large groups are also lining up.
The Milwaukee Health Department says that the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is virtually or with members of your own household. Officials encourage people to prepare traditional dishes and set up virtual calls. They also encourage them to decorate, as it can help with one's mental health.
"If you decide to gather, gather wisely," said Marlain Jackson, Milwaukee's interim health commissioner.
Milwaukee Health Department's Thanksgiving guidance
The health department said, if people do choose to gather with others, there are tips to practice. Those tips include keeping the gathering small, wearing masks, practicing social distancing, washing hands and opening a few windows to ensure proper ventilation.
The health department strongly discourages large gatherings -- especially those happening indoors with buffet or potluck-style dinners. Health officials want to remind the public that it can take up to 14 days for symptoms of COVID-19 to appear after one is exposed.
"Just because you feel well doesn’t mean you are in the clear," Barrett said.
While the journey has been long, now is not the time to let one's guard down.
"We know that an end is in sight. There are vaccines that are effective but we have to get through this winter," said Dr. Ben Weston with the Milwaukee County Office of Emergency Management.
City of Milwaukee COVID-19 testing sites will be closed on Thanksgiving while the testing site at Miller Park will be the only one open in the city on Black Friday.