While the holidays present a wonderful opportunity to reconnect with friends and family, they also present an opportunity for illnesses like COVID-19 to spread.

“Viruses don’t take a vacation,” says Dr. Kyle Freese, Chief Epidemiologist at STChealth

With this in mind, it’s important to take the proper precautions and modify holidays like Thanksgiving in order to minimize the potential of spreading COVID-19—especially amid the second wave of the coronavirus pandemic. Here are our recommendations for celebrating Thanksgiving sans COVID-19. 

Travel Considerations

If possible, it’s best not to travel this time of year. This is why small Thanksgiving gatherings and even virtual Thanksgiving gatherings with loved ones who live far away are optimal. 

However, if you do plan on traveling during this time, make sure to take all the usual precautions, such as wearing a mask, social distancing as much as possible, and regularly using hand sanitizer/washing your hands. And, if you’re able to, opt to drive to your destination instead of flying there. 

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) also recommends getting tested for COVID-19 prior to traveling. If you do happen to come in contact with someone with COVID-19, the CDC advises staying home for 14 days after your last contact with the infected person as well as postponing all travel until 14 days after your last possible exposure. 

Who to Host

Dr. Freese advises maintaining your COVID-19 “social bubble” even during holidays like Thanksgiving. What is this bubble? According to the Indiana State Department of Health, a “social bubble” is defined as “…a small group of people who socialize only with each other and gather only when sticking to the same prevention measures.” The smaller the bubble, the less likely you are to accidentally spread COVID-19. 

While Dr. Freese normally celebrates Thanksgiving with his large extended family, this year he plans on celebrating with his bubble, which includes his immediate family (i.e. his wife, children and parents). 

“If it’s feasible to eat outdoors, I think that’s almost always the least intrusive way to minimize [COVID-19] exposure,” adds Dr. Freese. 

“I think what we’re going to do is have two separate tables for the actual dinner—one indoors and one outdoors—and have people spread out as much as possible,” he says. “Fortunately we’re not a family who spends a whole lot of time at the dinner table.”

Modified Meal Planning

While there is little to no evidence suggesting that eating/handling food is directly related to spreading COVID-19, it is possible to catch COVID-19 by touching surfaces that have the virus on it then touching your mouth, nose or even your eyes. This includes food, cookware, food packaging and utensils. This is why it’s important to take extra care when preparing food for gatherings like Thanksgiving. 

Here are some tips for safe meal preparation: 

  • Avoid buffet-style gatherings; if guests bring food/drinks, encourage them to only share with their household
  • Wear a mask while making food and/or serving food
  • Have a space for all guests to store their masks while eating, such as a dry, breathable bag (paper or mesh fabric bags are recommended)
  • Limit the number of people going in and out of where food is being prepared/handled
  • Have one person who is wearing a mask serve all the food
  • Make sure everyone washes their hands for at least 20 seconds before and after preparing, serving or eating food
  • Offer no-touch trash cans for guests
  • Wash dishes with hot, soapy water immediately after the gathering

Low Risk Ways to Celebrate Thanksgiving

In conclusion, there are plenty of ways to celebrate Thanksgiving with little risk of catching or exposing others to COVID-19. 

According to the CDC, the following are ideal low risk Thanksgiving 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 on the day after Thanksgiving or the next Monday
  • Watching sports events, parades and movies from home

Bonus Tip

Help you and your loved ones stay safe this season by getting your flu shot before any Thanksgiving gatherings. We recommend encouraging other guests to do the same.