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How to celebrate Thanksgiving safely during the COVID-19 pandemic

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Have you made your 2020 Thanksgiving plans yet? 

Have you made your 2020 Thanksgiving plans yet?

Thanksgiving is typically a time to gather with loved ones and give thanks for all that we have. But this year, with the COVID-19 pandemic still in full swing, those gatherings might look a bit different.

Many people are wondering, “Is it safe to have my extended family all in one place? What about my elderly relatives? And can I travel to be with my family and friends?”

It’s no wonder the holiday is bringing a new layer of anxiety this year.

As you make your Thanksgiving plans, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) offers some suggestions for how to safely celebrate the holiday, ranking traditional activities from low-risk to high-risk.

For example, at-home activities — such as hosting a small dinner with only those who live in your household or watching parades and sporting events on TV — fall in the low-risk category. Dropping off Thanksgiving dinner for others in a no-contact way is also a low-risk activity, as is shopping online the day after Thanksgiving.

Having a small outdoor dinner with other community members, visiting outdoor pumpkin patches with safety precautions or attending small outdoor sports events with safety precautions are moderate-risk activities, according to the CDC.

Finally, the CDC cautions that attending large indoor gatherings such as big family dinners, participating in crowded outdoor races and shopping in busy stores are all high-risk activities.

What about travel?

Thanksgiving is typically a busy travel day, with many people flying or driving to visit family and friends. During the pandemic, however, the CDC says traveling increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19 — so staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. And you definitely shouldn’t travel if you’re sick or have been around someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days.

But what if you have college-age kids coming home for the Thanksgiving holiday?

There are a number of things you can do to make travel safer. BJC’s partners at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis offer the following tips for those who must travel this holiday season:

  • First and foremost, if you have any symptoms of COVID-19 (such as fever, new or worsening cough, trouble breathing, chills, unexplained muscle or body aches, loss of smell or taste, new or worse sore throat, or new or worse diarrhea) do not travel.
  • Make sure you bring supplies with you, including extra masks, hand sanitizer and sanitizing wipes.
  • At all times when in the same place as other people, wear your mask. This includes while in lines, in airports or train stations, on the plane/train/bus, in taxis and on shuttles. If you have access to a medical mask, consider using this for crowded areas in particular.
  • Choose companies that have and enforce mask requirements.
  • Ask to be reseated if you are within one to two rows or seats of any unmasked passengers.
  • Avoid removing your mask, including taking only sips of drinks and avoiding meals, if at all possible.
  • Wipe high touch surfaces around your seat.
  • Wash/sanitize your hands before and after being in public settings and always before you eat.
  • Keep windows open in cars, taxis, shared ride services and on buses if possible.

Here’s more about how the CDC ranks each Thanksgiving tradition:

Lower-risk activities

  • Having a small dinner with only people who live in your household
  • Preparing traditional family recipes for family and neighbors, especially those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and delivering them in a way that doesn’t involve contact with others
  • Having a virtual dinner and sharing recipes with friends and family
  • Shopping online, rather than in person, the day after Thanksgiving or the following Monday
  • Watching sports events, parades and movies from home

Moderate-risk activities

  • Having a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community
  • Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced, and people are able to maintain social distancing
  • Attending small outdoor sports events with safety precautions in place

Higher-risk activities

  • Going shopping in crowded stores just before, on or after Thanksgiving
  • Participating in or being a spectator at a crowded race
  • Attending crowded parades
  • Attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household

No matter what type of celebration you're planning to have, keep these CDC suggestions in mind and follow other best practices, such as wearing your mask, keeping a distance of 6 feet or more from others, and washing your hands regularly. See more CDC precautions here.

While this Thanksgiving may be very different from your traditional celebrations — you can still celebrate safely and be thankful for all that you have, especially during this time of uncertainty due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

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