Thanksgiving 2020: How to celebrate safely and smoothly

Posted11/23/2020 7:00 AM

With Thanksgiving and the holiday season rapidly approaching, many public health experts have united around a single message: Expect festivities to look very different this year.

Cases of the novel coronavirus are surging again nationwide, coinciding with cooler weather that has made outdoor gatherings less feasible in many parts of the country, and experts say that adding out-of-state travel and multigenerational holiday celebrations to the mix could send infection rates skyrocketing if the proper safeguards aren't taken.


"It is unfortunate, because that's such a sacred part of American tradition, the family gathering around Thanksgiving, but that is a risk," Anthony Fauci, the nation's top infectious-disease expert, told "CBS Evening News" in October. Fauci, who is 79, noted that his three children will not be traveling home for the holiday.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has recommended a similarly cautious approach. In recently updated guidance, the agency emphasized that the "safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household" -- meaning relatives from out of state, children away at college and really anyone who doesn't live with you probably shouldn't be joining you at the table. But for those who want to connect with their loved ones this holiday season, we have compiled advice from experts on how to celebrate without increasing your risk of contracting or spreading a potentially deadly virus.


Traveling during a pandemic involves "a nail-biting level of complexity," Neil Sehgal, a health policy expert with the University of Maryland School of Public Health, told The Washington Post's Dana Hedgpeth in October. So if you have to travel, planning is critical to reduce your chances of bringing the coronavirus with you.

You should have allowed enough time -- two full weeks -- to self-quarantine and get tested.

Before leaving, you should also get tested for the coronavirus, preferably with a PCR test, and obtain a negative result. But don't let a single negative test lull you into a false sense of security. "The test is only a snapshot in time," said Stephen Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University's Mailman School of Public Health.

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And depending on how you decide to travel, experts say, you may want to self-quarantine again after getting to your destination in case you were exposed to the virus along the way. State travel guidelines will also influence your quarantine and testing plan.

Be vigilant about safety. Whether you're driving, flying or taking a train or bus, make sure you're following public health recommendations, such as mask-wearing, practicing good hand hygiene and social distancing, whenever possible.


"This holiday season is going to be different. It just is," Barbara Alexander, president-elect of the Infectious Diseases Society of America, told The Post's Joel Achenbach in October. "It's not what I want -- but this is the pandemic we've been handed, so we're going to have to celebrate differently."

Think hard about the risks. For instance, if you live with someone who may have a greater chance of developing a serious case of COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus, the CDC suggests thinking about what potential risk you could pose to that person by attending a holiday event. Rochelle Walensky, chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Massachusetts General Hospital, encouraged people to "reach for the delayed gratification this year."


"Because what you don't want is to celebrate this year and have fewer people at next year's table," Walensky said.

Keep the guest list small. The fewer people there are, the lower the chances will be that one of your guests could be infected.


Exercise caution around shared food. A traditional holiday meal with platters of food being passed around the table or a buffet-style setup is not recommended.

Limit the number of people you have in the kitchen or any other areas where food preparation is happening, and avoid multiple people touching serving spoons. The CDC suggests either having guests bring their own food and drink or appointing one person to serve the food if you do plan on sharing. That person should be cleaning their hands well and often.

Consider these tips gathered by The Post's Food team that will keep you and your guests satisfied without requiring hours of laborious work.

Scale down the meal. Gatherings should have fewer guests. Instead of a whole turkey, think about preparing just the thighs, legs or breast, The Post's Becky Krystal writes. Or swap the large bird for smaller options, such as a roast chicken, Cornish hens, duck or quail.

"If Thanksgiving has been a stressful holiday for you as a cook, this is your reprieve," cookbook author Cynthia Graubart told Krystal. "You can find a way to make it special, but it doesn't have to be filled with stress and angst and anxiety."

One of the many great things about Thanksgiving desserts is that they can often be made in advance, Krystal writes. "Less stress, more sweetness."

Other precautions

Improve ventilation of indoor spaces. If you choose to dine indoors, open the windows, try to maintain distance and keep your mask on when you aren't eating or drinking.

Arrange an outdoor meal, if possible. The coronavirus can spread through tiny droplets and particles that hang in the air for extended periods of time, especially in poorly ventilated indoor spaces. Although eating indoors in restaurants or with people outside of your household has largely been discouraged, the CDC considers hosting a small outdoor dinner a moderate-risk activity.

Stock up on hand sanitizer and cleaning supplies. Place bottles of hand sanitizer at each table -- either one large bottle or a travel-size bottle at each seat.

Although the coronavirus is not believed to be commonly spread through contact with tainted surfaces, the CDC still recommends cleaning and disinfecting places and items that are frequently touched. Some high-touch surfaces include tables, doorknobs, counter tops, toilets, faucets and sinks, among others.

Go virtual. Put aside that Zoom fatigue and host a virtual gathering with friends and family this year.

Consider having a moderator who can make sure everyone is engaged and having fun. Dress up for the occasion if that's something your family enjoys doing. You can also involve your guests in "a shared ritual," such as sending out ingredients for a cocktail or a recipe for macaroni and cheese, or delving into family history.

"Anything you can do to make a memory, this is the year to reinvent traditions, for sure," said Taryn Williford, lifestyle director at Apartment Therapy.

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