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How To Celebrate Thanksgiving Safely During the COVID-19 Pandemic

How To Celebrate Thanksgiving Safely During the COVID-19 Pandemic

Brian Beckcom

Brian Beckcom


Already have plans for this Thanksgiving Day celebration? You may want to read this first. 

Before you create that Turkey Day Facebook event or make travel arrangements, you may want to keep in mind that the U.S. is again experiencing record numbers of coronavirus cases, and regardless of what state you’re in, there doesn’t seem to be any real chances of achieving “herd immunity” anytime soon. 

The risk of COVID-19 infection is very real, and we should all weigh those risks before cementing our Thanksgiving plans. Considering that a vaccine is still some months away, we have an opportunity, and more importantly, a responsibility to get creative this holiday season.

Keep celebrations as small as possible 

Thanksgiving is a time in which friends and family who don’t usually see each other or live together gather to exchange recipes and share laughs, usually followed by some serious couch time. 

Unfortunately, it is unlikely that family members can share meals and couch time while simultaneously wearing a mask and social distancing. 

Infectious diseases and infection control expert Roy Chemartly, M.D., says that the “best way to stay safe this Thanksgiving is to have a small gathering with only the people living in your immediate household.” 

Alternatively, you can plan Thanksgiving gatherings that only include your people in your immediate “social bubble.” In other words, host a gathering with only those friends and family members with who you regularly socialize. Your social bubble may include close friends, family members, neighbors, and coworkers. 

It’s important to note that even with steps to stay safe, meeting with others in your social bubble does increase your risk for getting COVID-19, so everyone in your small group must continue to follow best practices.

Find alternatives to cherished traditions

Whether it be recipe exchanges, pumpkin picking, or family game night, traditions are part of what makes a Thanksgiving gathering special. 

If you can’t bear the thought of missing out on Thanksgiving traditions, try finding ways in which you can enjoy them more safely. Here are alternatives that may be safer than traditional Thanksgiving gatherings: 

  • Instead of in-person black Friday shopping, screen-share to your TV with an iPad or laptop to gather the family around the TV for a fun online shopping experience. 
  • Instead of inviting friends or family members that you haven’t seen in a while for a family game night, host a fun game of charades using Zoom or FaceTime. 
  • Instead of hosting an indoor gathering, plan something outdoors, and encourage the use of masks and social distancing.

Perhaps the most important Thanksgiving tradition of all…

Thanksgiving dinner. 

While we all look forward to sitting around the table and gorging on stuffing and pie until we start feeling comatose, an alternative could be a drive-through potluck with friends and family. This will give everyone a chance to safely share a meal with one another in a new way. 

Minimize exposure

The most important thing to keep in mind this Thanksgiving is the significance of minimized exposure. Epidemiologists and virology experts are encouraging families to take extra measures to reduce their exposure to COVID-19 this holiday season. 

This time of year, you can bet your buttons that airports, hotels, and even gas stations are going to become quite crowded. You should avoid any location where you can expect crowds, such as shopping malls, festivals, restaurants, and bars. Maintaining proper social distance will be nearly impossible in those situations.

Additionally, if you have a college member or out-of-town loved one coming to visit this Thanksgiving, you should encourage them to get tested before traveling. If you have “high risk” family members, it may be wise to have any out-of-town visitors practice social distancing and remain masked at all times.  

Taking a few extra precautions and planning ahead can make this holiday season safer for everyone. 

Minimizing exposure is especially important if you have immunocompromised family members in your household. 

People who are at high risk of contracting the virus or developing severe complications can be folks with asthma, hypertension, high blood pressure, liver disease, or type one diabetes. Click here to learn more about how the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) define “high risk.”

Give thanks

I hope everyone can safely enjoy a Thanksgiving celebration this year, even if it isn't "traditional". Take this opportunity to show your thankfulness by keeping celebrations small, finding alternatives to cherished traditions, and minimizing exposure by planning ahead and taking precautions. 

Please visit www.cdc.gov/coronavirus for official recommendations and guidance on COVID-19.

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