During this pandemic, the warm-weather holidays—Memorial Day, Fourth of July, Labor Day—have come and gone, leaving in their wake a rise in the number of people who’ve tested positive for COVID-19. Now comes a late-autumn holiday that poses its own challenges: Thanksgiving.
So how can people give thanks safely in the most family-centered of holidays? There are ways.
“This is not the time to let our guard down,” says Alex Aspacher, community outreach coordinator for the Wood County Health Department. “We’ve definitely seen an increase in COVID-19 cases this fall.” He says as the weather gets colder, people will spend more time indoors, where the virus more easily transfers from person to person.
“We all look forward to holiday gatherings, but we have to find new ways to do the things we’re used to doing. We know people will still get together for Thanksgiving. Everyone has to consider what’s right for them,” he says.
“The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to do so with only your family,” he says. That poses less of a risk than including members of an extended family who you don’t see often. “I want to encourage everyone to keep their families safe. Think about how much you want to bring a big family together. We could be putting our loved ones at risk. The last thing you want to do is get a family member sick, especially one who is of advanced age or has a medical condition.
“People need to pay attention to wearing masks around anyone they don’t live with, wash hands, wipe surfaces clean—everything health officials have talked about since March.”
Aspacher suggests people visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) website—cdc.gov—for tips on Thanksgiving safety. He explains them and adds a few others:
- If you are having family visit from out of town, ask in advance how widespread COVID-19 is where they live. If the virus is more prevalent
where they live, the risk is greater if they come to your house.
- All families have disagreements, he says, so have a conversation with family members ahead of time to avoid conflicts about wearing masks, social distancing, and other changes to the Thanksgiving routine.
- Tell people to stay home if they’ve shown any COVID-19 symptoms or were exposed to anyone who may have had the virus in the previous 14 days.
- Talk in advance about how the holiday will play out. “Everybody should be on the same page,” Aspacher says. The details to be covered are whether it would be better to gather for the meal outside, or in a larger room than usual, or having card tables set up for each family.
- If eating indoors, open windows to increase ventilation or have a fan circulating air.
- “Avoid potluck-style gatherings where everyone brings something,” Aspacher says. “The CDC encourages everyone to bring their own food and drinks. If you are serving multiple families with the same food, have one person do the serving so everyone’s not sharing utensils. And consider using paper towels when washing and drying hands so everybody doesn’t share the same towel. Identify ways to keep everybody apart and not touching the same surfaces.”
- “We recommend people wear masks around people they don’t live with,” Aspacher says. “And keep six feet apart. Doing both is better.”
- “Zoom is a great alternative if you don’t want to have a gathering. Our family did that last Thanksgiving. We conferenced-in some people
who couldn’t make it in person,” Aspacher says.
- Before the holiday arrives, he adds, “it’s more important than ever to get a flu shot. COVID-19 and the flu have similar symptoms. If you protect yourself from the flu, you’re cutting away symptoms that may be confused with COVID-19.”
As for post-holiday, Aspacher says, “If after you attended any gathering, especially a family gathering, or if you’ve been around more people than usual, be aware if you’re showing COVID-19 symptoms. If you do, you’ll want to let your family know that. Seek testing. If you test positive, tell the family because everyone who has been around you should be quarantining so as not to spread the virus to others.”
And this bring us to December. Aspacher says two weeks or so after Thanksgiving it’ll be clear whether families did take preventative steps. If not and the number of those testing positive for the virus rises, it’ll affect Christmas and other December holidays.
“We’re optimistic that we’ll reach people—nobody wants to get their family sick, so let’s take these steps to reduce the chance of that happening,” he says. “It’s going to take all of us working together to get past this.”
Dennis Bova is a freelance writer, editor, and marketer.