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

Turkey Day is on the horizon. For many of us, it’s a given that we’ll be consuming copious carbs, lots of pumpkin pie, and probably one too many cocktails on Thanksgiving this year. What’s not for sure is who will be in attendance. As people begin to negotiate their Thanksgiving plans in light of the pandemic, there’s one question on many people’s minds: Do people need to quarantine before Thanksgiving dinner?

“Think about the time leading up to Thanksgiving as your pre-quarantine. Think about it as the time when you can do the best thing for yourself to minimize the risk of inadvertently bringing COVID to your family,” Dr. Cameron Robert Wolfe, an infectious disease expert at Duke University, urged people in a recent round table video discussion the Duke Medical School produced with three infectious disease experts. “Look, if the preparation for Thanksgiving begins 10-14 days before such a gathering occurs, then we’ve minimized the chances of bringing COVID into high risk situations.”

Dr. Elizabeth Mack, M.D., chief of pediatric critical care at the Medical University of South Carolina, concurs, telling Romper that while she understands people’s desperate desire to see family after months of separation, especially during this important holiday, they should also be realistic in understanding that asking loved ones to quarantine isn’t a firewall against infection spread. “I think the odds of people shutting down their lives for November and December are very low," she said.

So yes, ask people to quarantine, but don’t fall victim to lip service. Your Thanksgiving guests’ idea of quarantining might be different than your own or what the Centers for Disease Control & Prevention (CDC) advises.

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Best intentions are great says Dr. Mack, but the reality is “so many people with kids might be back in school or in activities. Parents are having to work. Somebody is going to the grocery store picking up groceries,” and we can’t discount those contacts.

If you must host a family gathering for Thanksgiving, Dr. Mack says you should absolutely host it outside.

Duke’s Dr. Viviana Martinez-Bianchi, a family medicine practitioner, says the same in the aforementioned video: “Having a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community lowers your risk by doing it outside.”

To up your safety measures, Dr. Mack adds that seating your guests in family units, not at one communal table “breathing on each other as you're reaching for things” can make a big difference. Also, serving the meal in the same way — not buffet style, but in portioned out dishes for each small table — is another way of preventing aerosol spray between family members.

Ultimately, stressing to your family the importance of mitigating contact by trying to quarantine as best as they can before the feast is what will protect you. Still, that’s easier said than done. As Dr. Mack says, “Remember, quarantine really means no contact.”


Dr. Elizabeth Mack, M.D., Chief of Pediatric Critical Care, Medical University of South Carolina