Twin Cities doctor warns about Thanksgiving virus risk as family falls ill

A Twin Cities doctor is warning Minnesotans to follow the restrictions on social gatherings over Thanksgiving after the virus quickly spread through her own extended family.

"I really urge people to take this seriously," Dr. Yeng Yang, medical director at the HealthPartners clinic in St. Paul, said. "I’m very concerned about Thanksgiving and Christmas being superspreader events."

Dr. Yang came down with the virus on Nov. 5.

"The unfortunate thing is that the morning of, before I started having symptoms, I took my mother to a medical appointment," Dr. Yang said.

Dr. Yang said she tested positive for the virus not long after and became very sick, with her oxygen levels dipping dangerously low.

"It can happen really quickly and it can be pretty severe. I was really close to going to the hospital," Dr. Yang said.

She said her husband and her 79-year-old mother later tested positive as well. Her mother lives with other relatives who then also got sick, including her brother, sister-in-law and their two children.

"That’s the part I feel really guilty about. My mother is older, she has medical problems, she’s immunocompromised," Dr. Yang said. "We were thinking we had two bubbles, two households that were pretty safe. And I never really thought this was going to happen just because we’ve been so careful."

Dr. Yang said she is very concerned about families deciding to gather for Thanksgiving, despite the new statewide restrictions.

Under the executive order that went into effect Friday, social gatherings outside your immediate household are prohibited. Any individual who "willfully violates the executive order" could face a misdemeanor with up to a $1,000 fine or 90 days in jail. Gov. Tim Walz acknowledged the ban on private gatherings is largely unenforceable, but the possible punishment reflects the severity of the risk.

FULL COVERAGE: Walz announces new COVID-19 restrictions

"I think that’s the danger is that people think, you know, I don’t have symptoms so I must be fine," Dr. Yang said. "Negative tests also give a false sense of security. I tell people, the negative test is only good when you actually get swabbed, up until that point."

Dr. Yang said she has witnessed the dire situation inside Minnesota’s hospitals and is worried that holiday gatherings will accelerate the spread of the virus and overwhelm the health care system.

"A percentage of those patients may end up in the ER, they may end up in the hospital, and our hospital systems are just not equipped to continue to handle it," Dr. Yang said. "The loving thing to do this Thanksgiving is to stay away from each other. I know it’s hard but save it for another day.”