Experts answer questions you have about Thanksgiving 2020 with advice about social distancing, mask ...
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Every Tricky Thanksgiving Question You Have This Year, Answered By Experts

Because pumpkin pie versus pecan isn't your only concern this year.

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The biggest issue my family tackled in Thanksgivings past was whether to roast our turkey or fry it. (My answer is to fry it. Fight me.) This year, the top question is how to celebrate Thanksgiving safely together. It's been such a long year apart, but should we even gather at all? What if we all get tested? I have so many questions, and I know I can't be the only one.

"This year we need to plan much ahead and take all precautionary measures as much as possible, especially if you are planning any travel or events at your house," Dr. Sunitha D. Posina, MD, board-certified internist in New York tells Romper.

But, what exactly do those measures entail? The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released guidelines for safely participating in Thanksgiving activities amid the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic. Much like for Easter and Halloween this year, their list recommends skipping traditional large gatherings in favor of small dinners with only members of your household and socially-distanced, outdoor events with virus-mitigation measures firmly in place.

Even with this guidance, families may still have questions about how to safely participate in some beloved Thanksgiving traditions. Can your yearly game of front yard football happen? Should one person serve the food, or is buffet-style safer? Can my favorite Aunt Sally fly in from Nebraska?

Although the CDC has labeled specific activities like post-holiday in-person shopping and attending crowded parades as "high risk," that doesn't mean all hope is lost for celebrating Turkey Day with family. Read on to see what experts have to say in answer to some of the biggest — and most specific — questions about celebrating Thanksgiving safely.


How late is too late to pod up with someone for Thanksgiving?

Similar to how families create educational pods to minimize exposure to COVID-19, but still reap the benefits of socialization, podding with another family for Thanksgiving is one potential way to safely gather.

"There is still time to create a pod with another family in order to celebrate Thanksgiving or the other holidays," Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, One Medical provider and Regional Medical Director, tells Romper.

When podding, communication about potential virus exposure risk is key because the concept only works if everyone follows the same guidelines. "Everyone in a social pod should agree to limit or even eliminate interactions with others outside of the pod," Bhuyan explains. Try starting two weeks before the big day with these restrictions.

Read more: How To Have A Safe Thanksgiving Dinner With Your Family This Year


Is it safe to play football in the front yard this year?

Thanks to what researchers now know about how COVID-19 is spread, Bhuyan says that playing football outdoors is probably a go. She does note however that "participants should still wear a mask" while playing "because they will come into contact with each other."

If you prefer to enjoy the game from the sidelines, it's probably best to wear a mask as well since Bhuyan notes that "when people are yelling or cheering, they increase the risk of COVID-19 spread." Either that, or keep your distance and your cheers to a minimum.


Can I bring my baby to Thanksgiving if it's outside and socially distant since they can't wear a mask?

The CDC does not recommend that children under age 2 wear a mask, so if you're attending a gathering with your baby, evaluating other risk factors is key. As for the specific situation with an outdoor, socially distanced event, Bhuyan tells Romper, "This really depends on the risk factors of the people you will be interacting with." She also notes that "it’s important to remember that infants and children are able to both contract and spread COVID."

Read more: How To Host An Outdoor Thanksgiving That'll Make The Whole Family Thankful


What questions should I ask the host if I'm invited to a family member's home for dinner?

"The most important consideration is the guest list, including how many people are invited, their relation to each other, and their own health status or risk factors," Bhuyan tells Romper.

Asking about testing, whether masks are required, whether the event is indoors or outside, and how much room there will be for social distancing are also key questions to ask the host if you are invited to someone else's gathering. Getting the answers to these will help you make an informed decision.


What is considered a "safe" amount of people at a Thanksgiving dinner?

Bhuyan tells Romper that there is truly no "ideal size" for a Thanksgiving gathering. "The reality is: the more people in the pod or event, the higher your risk of spreading COVID," she says. "I advise my patients to limit their pods to two to three families and aim for less than 10 people, including adults and children. The best guest list should be small and restricted to people who are already in a social bubble together or are at lower risk."

Read more: Should You Have A Thanksgiving This Year? Experts Weigh In


Is getting tested before a Thanksgiving gathering necessary?

"If you do not live in the same household as your Thanksgiving guests, getting tested for COVID beforehand is a good idea and can help prevent possible transmission," Los Angeles-based physician Dr. Bita Nasseri tells Romper. "Make sure that you are getting tested close to the holiday to ensure that the results are accurate. You should get tested no earlier than 72 hours before gathering in order to get the most up-to-date results, and also make sure that you receive a negative test to show the host before you go to their home."

However, Posina explains that due to the incubation period of anywhere from two to 14 days, "If you contracted the virus today or yesterday and tested for it today, it would be a negative result," so the best way to go about testing for a specific event is to "quarantine at least a week prior to testing," and then continue quarantining after you take your test until it's time for the Thanksgiving gathering. This will ensure that, if your test is negative, it remains accurate.


Is indoor Thanksgiving safe? How can I make it safer?

While indoor gatherings with those who are not a part of your own household are considered to be high risk per the CDC, should you choose to have an indoor Thanksgiving celebration, precautions like testing prior to the event (while not foolproof) can help make the event safer. "Face masks should always be used anytime you will be in contact with people other than household members," Posina tells Romper. "In addition, social distancing and hand hygiene are very important, too, if you are planning on attending gatherings."

If there is any doubt about your attendees' ability to follow safety measures, an outdoor celebration may be the best way to go. "Emerging research indicates the COVID is more likely to spread indoors in poorly ventilated settings. Having dinner outside can minimize this risk," Bhuyan tells Romper.


Will opening the windows help minimize risks if we eat indoors?

If you do choose to gather indoors, the CDC recommends that families “increase ventilation by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather” during indoor celebrations.


Should I keep my mask on except for when I'm eating?

"If you are attending a Thanksgiving where social distancing is not possible and testing has not been done beforehand, I would recommend wearing a mask unless you are eating or drinking to be as safe as possible," Nasseri tells Romper.

Nasseri adds that masks should also be worn when traveling on any form of public transportation, or if you're in a car with others not from your household on the way to and from Thanksgiving gatherings.


Should I quarantine myself & my family before/after the dinner?

"Doing a quarantine prior to a social event is also a good idea — especially if the event is going to include people who are older or in vulnerable populations," Bhuyan tells Romper. Bhuyan also recommends testing prior to, as well as following, events with high risk of exposure.

This is especially important if you have to travel to and from your Thanksgiving dinner, Dr. Susan V. Lipton, MD, MPH, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore tells Romper. "The most sensible way to approach the holiday is for those planning to travel to family — especially college kids — to self-quarantine in a small, responsible pod for the two weeks before the holidays. A negative test on top of that responsibility is even better."

Read more: Should You Quarantine Before Thanksgiving Dinner? Here's What The Experts Say


Can I hug my family members at Thanksgiving?

In addition to limiting the number of attendees at Thanksgiving, the CDC recommends that guests from different households remain socially distanced throughout the event. Guidance from the CDC website states, “Guests should avoid direct contact, including handshakes and hugs, with others not from their household.”


Should I attend if older people are there, like grandparents/seniors?

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Losing out on time spent with elderly relatives — especially around the holidays — can be heartbreaking for all involved. Keeping safety at the forefront of your gatherings by getting tested, wearing masks, and maintaining social distance from the most vulnerable is key. "It would be strongly advised to evaluate the level of risk one wants to take, especially those with the elderly or the vulnerable in their family," Posina tells Romper.

Read more: Is It Safe To Have Grandparents Over For Thanksgiving Dinner? Experts Weigh In


How do I politely decline a Thanksgiving gathering?

So, your Great Aunt Lisa is bound and determined to have the entire family sit at her dining room table for Thanksgiving, but you don't feel comfortable attending — what do you say? You probably aren't looking forward to bursting her bubble of excitement, but finding a way to let her down gently is a must.

"Keep in mind, your tone and energy will set the context of the outcome. Given the pandemic climate, most may understand the challenges regarding safety and comfort," life coach and author Anita Kanti tells Romper.

Just like so many topics during these trying times, sometimes people disagree about the best way to safely interact, but putting the focus on you instead of the host is key. "Handle your decline with a sensitive approach and dialogue starting with 'I' statements, trusting your intention, and declaring any vulnerability," Kanti says. "Indicate a brief reason — not a long-winded story that may sound like an excuse — followed with appreciation and a plan to meet at a future mutual date."


How does a Zoom Thanksgiving even work?

If your family has decided to have a virtual Thanksgiving, having a plan for how the Zoom call will go is best. Decide who will "host," set the time you will meet, share the meeting link with guests. Typically free Zoom calls are limited to just 40 minutes, but on Nov. 26, the company will lift this time limit to allow you to enjoy unlimited time connecting with friends and family, CNN reported.

Once you have the time set and the link sent out, it's up to you to make the most of this time with family. "Virtual Thanksgivings sound boring, but family competitions — worst kitchen disaster, most stuffed turkey, why is the cranberry sauce orange, what pie that looks worst and tastes best, pet dress-ups — can be fun," Lipton tells Romper.

Read more: 8 Tips To Have A *Successful* Virtual Thanksgiving


How do I make Thanksgiving special if we don't celebrate with family members?

Even if you can't physically get together for Thanksgiving, Kanti suggests families can still make the day special by engaging in what she calls "social-bridging" — connecting virtually through technology like video calls.

"Preserving new family memories doesn’t have to stop," Kanti tells Romper. "Create modern digital albums, share online postcards, play cards, create online experiences such as cooking together, and watch holiday flicks through screen sharing to bridge closeness."

Read more: Zoom Thanksgiving Dinner Ideas To Make The Most Of Virtual Turkey Time


What should I do if my family is mad I'm not going to Thanksgiving?

When you let your family know that you plan to stay home for Thanksgiving this year, it's possible that you'll disappoint certain family members. If the tension spills out as anger at dashed plans directed at you, it's important to have a game plan as to how you'll react.

"Stay calm, focus on your breath before responding, engage in listening, acknowledge that you hear your family member, and dissect your reason by promoting mindfulness towards their emotions," Kanti tells Romper. "Be careful not to repeat former unproductive patterns that lead to defensiveness and combativeness. Post discussion, have a plan to de-stress that involves a healthy activity."


What should I do if I'm mad that my family is not coming to Thanksgiving?

The answer to this one is quite simple: "By not taking it personally, period," Kanti says.

You can only control your actions. This means that even if your family decides not to attend your Thanksgiving dinner, feeling disappointed about not seeing them is OK, but it's important to respect their choice.

"Like other personal feelings to manage when we feel rejected, it’s essential to balance our expectations while respecting our family’s decisions," she explains. "The balance is to adjust your mindset and mind-shift into gratitude and focus on the meaning of the holiday."


What's the safest way to travel to Thanksgiving dinner?

"Traveling increases your chance of contracting the virus — although airlines have increased their measures — because of the pre-boarding activities such as taxi rides, security checks, and more," Posina tells Romper. "It is probably best to stay home if you want to protect yourself in the best way."

But, if your Thanksgiving plans do include traveling, keeping preventative safety measures firmly in place is the best way to help keep your family safe. "If you do plan to travel, then best to practice face masks, social distancing, and hand-washing as preventative measures," Posina says. "Assess the quarantine rules and infection rates from where you are traveling to and from."


What is the best way to safely make food to share at Thanksgiving?

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Arguably the best part about Thanksgiving is the abundance of delicious food. "If it is homemade, it needs to be piping hot and covered completely until served," Lipton tells Romper. "No matter how beautiful the turkey or pie is, cover it with foil or plastic wrap until officially cut, which needs to be done 6 feet away from guests. If you buy a ready-made product, heat it over 170 degrees for at least 20 minutes."


Is picking up Thanksgiving dinner from a restaurant safe?

Many restaurants offer complete holiday meals for families who prefer not to cook. This year, curbside pickup is an option that could not only save you time and effort in the kitchen, but is generally safer than dining inside of a restaurant. The CDC recommends taking advantage of online payment for takeout meals when possible to minimize in-person contact and help reduce the spread of COVID-19.


Should one host serve all the food, or can everyone go through buffet-style?

The more people who come into contact with the serving utensils, the greater the chance that germs will be spread. With this in mind, having one person serve the food is ideal. "Whoever is serving should mask, scrub their hands in front of everyone as well as having the person passing out plates scrub," Lipton tells Romper.


What precautions should I take while traveling?

If you're flying, Lipton recommends to "get an airline that skips middle seats and enforces mask over nose and mouth, and corrects poor manners." Other suggestions include using wet wipes to clean hands, armrests, and any other high-touch areas you may come into contact with. Offering a wipe or two to your seat mates won't hurt either.

"Speak up if someone isn't complying with hygiene and ask that they move or you move," Lipton tells Romper. "If you are going to drink water or nibble a snack, wipe the cup and the package, and put your mask on at any pauses."

As for rental cars and hotel stays, sanitizing wipes are your new BFF. "Wipe down rental car touch surfaces, gas pumps, doorknobs, phones, remotes in hotels, and bring breakfast back to your room or wipe down an entire secluded table," Lipton tells Romper.


Is there a way to safely attend Thanksgiving Day parades?

The Macy's Thanksgiving Day parade has gone virtual this year, but if your family typically enjoys catching candy and watching over-decorated floats pass by at your city's local Turkey Day parade, you may have to participate from a distance this year in order to stay safe. "The safest way to enjoy a parade is to watch them on TV with your family. If you must attend a parade, make sure that masks are required and that there is proper room for social distancing (at least 6 feet between individuals)," Nasseri tells Romper.


How much should I spend on a hostess gift?

"While a hostess gift for Thanksgiving dinner is not necessary, it will be greatly appreciated. In the spirit of the season, it’s more about the thoughtfulness, rather than the price," Brittany Anderson, a content manager for party planning website The Bash, tells Romper.

Even though it's certainly not required during these uncertain times, if showing up empty handed just feels wrong to you, spending anywhere from $10 to $25 to show your appreciation for the host's time and effort is appropriate, Anderson says. "Something like a bottle of wine or bouquet of fresh flowers is always a solid go-to, and can be used or displayed during the celebration." This is especially nice if your host is going above and beyond to keep things socially distant and safe.


Should I mail my hostess gift, or is it safe to bring in person?

Whether you're attending a gathering in-person and questioning the safety of handing over a gift that has been in your potentially germ-ridden hands, or want to show appreciation for the host of a virtual Thanksgiving gathering, there are plenty of options for mailing hostess gifts.

"If you’re looking to make a grand gesture or are celebrating virtually, you can book a quick performance from a musician like an acoustic guitarist or singer — both are offering virtual services right now," Anderson tells Romper. "It’s safe to bring a gift in person, however, you can ship a bottle of wine — which can get costly — or send a bouquet of flowers or seasonal plant to the house prior to the Thanksgiving celebration."

Read more: Thanksgiving Hostess Gifts You Can Ship In Advance, From Coasters To Cheese Plates


Brittany Anderson, The Bash

Dr. Natasha Bhuyan, One Medical provider and Regional Medical Director

Anita Kanti, author of Behaving Bravely: How to Mindshift Life’s Challenges and founder at Anita K Solutions

Susan V. Lipton, MD, MPH, Chief of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at Sinai Hospital of Baltimore

Dr. Bita Nasseri, Los Angeles-based physician

Dr. Sunitha D. Posina, MD, board-certified internist and locum hospitalist in New York

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