Are household gatherings the real driver behind COVID-19 spread? Doctors weigh in

"We've said all along, small gatherings, household gatherings are a major driver," says an epidemiology professor from UCSF.
SAN FRANCISCO (KGO) -- Chances are you've heard the message by now: stay home this holiday and don't travel. But new contact tracing information suggests that travel may actually pose a low risk of coronavirus transmission. It's the private household gatherings which happen after that are driving the spread, according to data.

It's why health officials are so concerned.

RELATED: Health officials fear next COVID-19 surge as Bay Area travelers return from holiday trips

"We canceled everything," said Anna Silberman.

Anna and Jeff Silberman from San Rafael are staying home this holiday, but their daughter is flying to Panama with friends.

"Four flights to an island somewhere, as a concerned parent I said, 'what are you crazy?'" said Jeff Silberman.

Despite warnings from health officials, the TSA says millions of people have been passing through airport security checkpoints, the most since the start of the pandemic.

RELATED: Traveling may require COVID vaccine passport in near future

Contact tracing data from New York State suggests the rate of COVID-19 exposure is low - about one percent for retail shopping, travel and going to restaurants. But extremely high for household and social gatherings at 74 percent.

"We've said all along, small gatherings, household gatherings are a major driver. To the extent people travel from LA up here, that's going to amplify mixing," said Dr. George Rutherford, Epidemiology Professor from UCSF.

It's why health officials urge travelers to quarantine when coming home.

The latest numbers show California has the second highest coronavirus rates in the country, second only to Tennessee.

COVID-19 RISK CALCULATOR: The safest and most dangerous things to do this holiday season

Even so, experts say people are tired of isolation.

"We are very aware there is pandemic fatigue and that people are tired, their ability to shelter is not as great as it was in the the spring," said Dr. Ahmad Kamal, Santa Clara County Director of Healthcare Preparedness.

Kamal says we need to be strong by not traveling or gathering.

Take it from Jeff and Anna.

"Its ok if you stay home, it's not going to kill you," said Silberman.

If you have a question or comment about the coronavirus pandemic, submit yours via the form below or here.
Get the latest news, information and videos about the novel coronavirus pandemic here

Copyright © 2021 KGO-TV. All Rights Reserved.