Should you cancel Thanksgiving dinner to avoid contracting or spreading the novel coronavirus?
For tens of millions of Americans, the holiday means traveling to be with their family for a cozy gathering and an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner featuring turkey, cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and other traditional foods.
But with the COVID-19 pandemic continuing to surge in much of the U.S., infectious disease experts are worried that colder fall weather could exacerbate the pandemic as people spend more time indoors, which can boost the transmission rates of the virus, according to research.
In a recent interview with CBS News, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s pre-eminent infectious disease expert, warned about indoor gatherings with out-of-town guests.
“It is unfortunate because that’s such a sacred part of American tradition — the family gathering around Thanksgiving,” he said. “But that is a risk.”
Other experts agree.
“The virus doesn’t care that it’s Thanksgiving,” says Dr. Barbara D. Alexander, president-elect of the Infectious Diseases Society of America. She’s professor of medicine and pathology in the Division of Infectious Diseases and International Health at Duke University in Durham, North Carolina.
“COVID-19 is still on the rise in communities across the nation. Now is not the time to let down our guard when it comes to preventing the spread of (the disease). Travel and large gatherings both pose risks to individuals that could undo the months of hard work and sacrifice we have all put in.”
There’s no way to eliminate the possibility of being infected by the novel coronavirus, which causes COVID-19. Any time you interact with other people, in or outside your home, there’s a chance of coming into contact with the virus. However, there are steps you can take to mitigate your risk during Thanksgiving.
Health experts recommend these seven strategies to enjoy a safer Thanksgiving during the pandemic:
— Consider a remote gathering.
— Weather permitting, host an outdoor gathering.
— Keep gatherings small.
— Avoid buffet-style meals.
— Check in on older family members.
— Shop for Black Friday deals online.
1. Consider a remote gathering. As much as you want to get together in real life with far-flung or nearby loved ones, seeing them on a laptop screen instead would be safer in the middle of a pandemic, says Dr. Benjamin Singer, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. “While it’s unusual, the safest Thanksgiving dinner may be remote, with households each having their own celebrations and connecting with each other via technology,” Singer says. Make sure everyone has a laptop or a cellphone and knows how to get into a Zoom meeting.
2. Weather permitting, host an outdoor gathering. When it comes to avoiding the new virus, outdoor activities are far safer than being indoors. If you’re doing an outdoor gathering, follow all the usual guidance for slowing the spread of the virus, Alexander says. That means maintaining social distance and wearing a mask. “Set up socially distanced chairs and tables,” she says. “If the weather permits, games like Frisbee, cornhole or pickleball are naturally socially distanced. Just remember to keep your hands away from your face and to use hand sanitizer before and after playing.”
3. Keep gatherings small. The White House’s coronavirus task force has issued guidance to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people. The bigger the crowd, the higher the risk, says Dr. Niket Sonpal, a board-certified internist and gastroenterologist based in New York City. He’s also a faculty member at the Touro College of Medicine. Avoid gatherings of 10 or more people, particularly if any of the attendees is from a state with spiking cases of the new virus. In mid-October, 10 states — including Colorado, New Mexico, North Carolina and Wisconsin — reported their highest single-day counts of novel coronavirus cases.
4. Follow basic novel coronavirus safety precautions. Whether you attend an indoor or outdoor Thanksgiving gathering, wear a mask, maintain social distancing, don’t touch your face and wash your hands. These measures “reduce the risk” of infection, Sonpal says.
5. Avoid buffet-style meals. Some families typically set out a buffet for Thanksgiving. That’s not a great idea during a pandemic, says Maggie Michalczyk, a registered dietitian in Chicago. “People often stand close to each other when going down the line to get food buffet-style,” she says. Consider designating one person to do the serving while practicing social distancing. If you do have a buffet — with food set on a table or island for people to serve themselves — spread the dishes out to give people more room as they serve themselves.
6. Check in on older family members. This Thanksgiving in particular, it’s important that people don’t forget about their family members who live in senior housing facilities or are sheltering in place for health reasons, says Jennifer Shannon, a pharmacist based in Johns Creeks, Georgia. “As an independent community pharmacist, I have seen firsthand how devastatingly sad and lonely this time has been for these patients,” she says. Because of the pandemic, many senior living facilities have suspended visits. But some allow socially distanced visits, and you can always call or video chat.
7. Shop for Black Friday deals online. Going to the mall to scout for Black Friday deals the day after Thanksgiving is almost as much a tradition as the meal, Sonpal says. “But this year, shopping should be done primarily online to avoid large droves of people at the mall,” he says. If you decide to shop in person, try to shop during hours when there are fewer people in the stores.
More from U.S. News