Mark Roemer image of a Thanksgiving dinner table

How to Host Thanksgiving During The COVID-19 Pandemic

Mark Roemer knows like many things in 2020, this year, the holidays could look a little different. With cases of coronavirus growing in the United States, and experts forecasting more increases over the winter months, protection will be crucial.

Given that many people would decide that traveling during the holidays is not worth the risk, this may mean a virtual Thanksgiving dinner with family and friends or avoiding a traditional meal altogether instead of planning an outdoor, distant celebration (weather permitting).

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advises that celebrating with individuals in your immediate household is the lowest risk; extending that circle to members outside your household can increase the risk, mainly if they are elderly or immunocompromised. Dr. Kristin Dean, Medical Director of Doctor On Demand, tells Apartment Therapy that while it is understandable that people want to communicate with relatives, what enhances future exposure is the need for close contact. 

“During this special time of year, all of us are used to kissing, smiling, and being close to our families,” she says. It has become increasingly difficult to maintain social distance or wear a face mask while we have family in our house because it’s not how we’re used to spending time with each other. We know that people may be infectious before they have symptoms of COVID-19, or they can never have symptoms at all, but being close to the family can raise the risk of spreading the virus if we do not take preventive steps.

None of this is to suggest that all events are off-limits or that the holidays are canceled. It’s also worth noting that everyone has multiple family dynamics and holiday methods, and many individuals will determine their plans on a case-by-case basis. Here’s what you need to know about organizing safe celebrations for yourself and your loved ones, along with measures you should take to ensure that everyone around you is covered.

Are you looking to stay in touch with a big family? Virtual celebrations are the best route.

It can be tiring to use Zoom as a substitute for social activities, mainly on video calls all day for work. (Recall in the spring when it was such a novelty to have virtual happy hour or game night? Simpler times.) But given the risks associated with in-person and mainly indoor celebrations, and the fact that the CDC has defined small meetings as a source of spreading COVID-19, online sessions might be the safest alternative, or the “gold standard,” as Dean puts it. 

Digital gatherings allow you to socialize and link to vulnerable members of your family without the risk of transmitting the disease,” she explains, adding that it is understandable that many people still pine for that in-person, physical connection.” “This could be the longest time for many of us that we’ve ever spent apart.”

Remember: Outdoor celebrations aren’t a cure-all

The CDC describes spending time outdoors with family or friends as a “moderate risk” practice, depending on where you live. It’s also worth noting that checking the weather forecast is not enough if coronavirus cases are on the rise in your area, which could affect the risk level. Planning an outdoor event will also, of course, bring some risk. To that end, any meeting should always be as small as possible and should not be used as an excuse, as tempting as it may be to invite the whole community to talk to the park.

Dean notes that even though you are outdoors, all safety precautions should always be taken, including social distance, wearing a face mask when less than six feet apart, regular washing of hands, and using disinfectant wipes in high-touch areas. In addition, self-quarantine for 14 days before the meeting will be suitable for family members. This will minimize the risk that someone has been exposed to the virus at the event and is not aware of it, she says, adding that before any celebration, people should also consider getting screened for COVID. Even so, early in the disease, false negatives are likely, and an outdoor occurrence may also put other individuals at risk in the community, mainly if you are in a public park rather than a backyard.

Air travel complicates thingsā€”a lot

As the CDC noted, any form of travel increases one’s risk of catching or spreading the coronavirus. Different states and regions have distinct security constraints, so it is essential to be aware of the population’s extent applied at your destination and any government guidance in place to quarantine upon arrival.

Dean points out that, due to close contact with others for a prolonged period of time, air travel is incredibly dangerous, along with exposure to surfaces that may be touched continuously. “If possible, the best route of travel to visit family this holiday season is a quick car ride with family members inside your household,” she says.

Before gathering indoors, it’s crucial to understand the risks involved

The CDC describes “large indoor meetings with individuals from outside your home” as a high-risk activity, especially if travel is involved. To that end, experts suggest that hosts restrict the number of participants as much as possible, provide their guests with details about COVID safety measures, and provide protective equipment for those around them, such as masks and hand sanitizer. And if you attend an indoor meeting, check-in beforehand with the host to see what steps they have taken to minimize danger.

Dean adds that opening windows could assist with ventilation and that indoor precautions for outdoor activities will also apply. Given that this is a higher risk operation, the advice for self-quarantine before the event and considering checking for COVID-19 could provide even more value for an indoor meeting,” she says.”

It is also worth noting that your social media feeds are probably not going to be an excellent barometer of reality when it comes to holiday celebrations. Where Instagram is typically a place for festive highlight reels, you can see some people ignoring health standards and hosting big parties. In contrast, others may be inclined to meet without recording it at all in an attempt to avoid shaming any social media. Now is not the time to leave you shame in dangerous circumstances with a fear of losing out. Listen to the voice if you feel awkward about attending dinner. It is best to disregard what you see on your feed (or don’t see) and obey the advice given by health experts.

What holiday traditions are OK to take part in?

Crowded shopping malls, particularly just before and after Thanksgiving, pose a high risk of spreading COVID-19, according to the CDC. It’s probably better to pass on any annual mall trips for that reason and instead do your shopping online.

But that doesn’t mean that any activity for the holiday is off the table. Without compromising too much security, outdoor pumpkin patches and Christmas tree farms offer a way to rejoice in the holiday spirit. That said, some aspects still have to be considered. “Try to find a place that has enough space to preserve social distance from people not in your household,” Dean says, adding that it is important to have face covers and hand sanitizer. “Selecting a place where COVID-19’s population spread is low will also help minimize the risk of infection.” As with anything else, you should stay home if you have symptoms or you might have been exposed to the virus yourself.

And if you’re feeling sad, it’s OK to ask for help

During the holidays, it is extremely normal to experience isolation, and more people may feel this way in the midst of the pandemic than ever. It is important to note that you are not alone in those feelings and that there are ways of coping.

If you can’t see each other in person, Dean recommends keeping in constant contact with friends and family and finding ways to connect with your group, even virtually. “During the holidays, the act of giving will bring people joy, and it doesn’t have to be expensive,” she says. “Look for ways to safely give back to your community to feel associated with others and give yourself a boost.”

It’s essential to reach out to a trusted friend, loved one, medical provider, or a help hotline at any point if isolation feels overwhelming or you experience feelings of depression. “Don’t be scared to ask for help,” stresses Dean. “The ability to interact via a virtual visit with a licensed provider will allow you to get the assistance you need without having to experience this holiday season alone.”