Thanksgiving is probably my favorite holiday — especially now that my husband and I have started hosting at our house. No traveling to different houses and hauling a toddler, no worrying about the dogs, I can just go to bed after eating entirely too much food instead of having to drive home. Yes, please. But we're having a bit of a conundrum in 2020. Should we have a Thanksgiving dinner this year? I mean obviously nobody is stopping people from buying a 25-pound turkey and making a platter of macaroni and cheese for you and your immediate family, but with the coronavirus, is it safe to have other family members over to eat as guests?
Immunologist Dr. Robert Quigley highly recommends celebrating Thanksgiving with only immediate family members who live in the same home. And Dr. Rashid Chotani, an infectious disease specialist, tells Romper that while you can still enjoy the season and holiday, it will probably look a bit different this year. “Before planning a fall celebration, you should take into consideration the COVID-19 intensity in your community and reference your local/state health department and CDC guidelines,” he says. “Be cognizant of age, health status, and comfort level of your family and guests.”
Quigley agrees, and tells Romper, “It is clear that the risk for severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age, and the greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those greater than 85 years old.”
But beyond taking note of the ages of your potential guests, Chotani says that you can look at the data in. your area, too. Even if no one is older than 85, if the data shows that the disease count isn't declining in your area, or you or someone you've been in regular contact with is sick, you should reconsider hosting a Thanksgiving dinner. "You should also avoid gatherings if you are caring for, or living with, someone who is in a high-risk category," he adds.
The number of people attending your Thanksgiving celebration matters, too, according to Chotani, because it makes a difference in terms of your possible level of exposure. “Follow state/local orders and keep gatherings small to reduce the risk. If you plan an activity involving food and drinks, it is recommended to be outdoors since you won’t be wearing masks,” Chortani says. “Before having guests, go straight to the backyard or outdoor area, and be sure to check the weather. If there is a chance of rain, guests will want to move indoors. If the weather is chilly, consider safely using a fire pit or other outdoor heater.”
If you’re still hoping to have family over for Thanksgiving celebrations this year, both experts recommend you take certain precautions, which can also be found on the CDC website, Quigley notes. He says to not share food or drink, use disposable plates and napkins, wash your hands frequently, avoid touching your face and mouth, wear a mask if indoors, and try to keep 6 feet between yourself and others. “And no hugging, kissing, or touching relatives,” he says. You should also clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces.
Additional precautions include having shorter gatherings — since longer gatherings pose a higher risk than shorter gatherings — according to Chotani. He suggests taking into consideration your attendees’ behaviors leading up to Thanksgiving, too. “If they are not adhering to social distancing, mask-wearing, hand-washing, and other preventative behaviors, the risk is higher than gatherings with attendees who are engaging in these preventative behaviors,” he says. “Going door-to-door or taking candy during Halloween from a communal bowl is not the best idea this year, nor are indoor costume parties and haunted houses.”
But really, it all comes down to using common sense. Chotani says you'll want to follow all the normal COVID-19 safety guidelines like wearing a mask and frequent hand-washing, and you can also place tables and chairs at least 6 feet apart at your gathering. And if all of that is too much, it might be better for you to organize a Zoom call or some other virtual event, Quigley suggests.
In short, "This is definitely not the time for 'pandemic fatigue,'" Quigley says. So maybe make an extra pumpkin pie so nobody has to share the knife or table.
Rashid A. Chotani, medical director, IEM/professor epidemiology, University of Nebraska Medical Center, infectious disease specialist and medical review board member for HealthCentral.