Party Plan: Thanksgiving in the Pandemic

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This year the Thanksgiving celebration in which you usually participate–family members coming in from out of town, many family members and friends gathering indoors for a huge meal, playing games together, shopping in crowded stores –needs to be different. Thanksgiving in the pandemic needs to be planned very clearly to protect all participants from COVID-19.

Read these activities rated by the Centers for Disease Control by their risk level. The low-risk activities, as listed by the CDC, include the following:

  • 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

Moderate-risk activities include the following:

  • Having a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community
  • Lower your risk by following CDC’s recommendations on hosting gatherings or cook-outs.
  • Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced, and people are able to maintain social distancing
  • Attending a small outdoor sports events with safety precautions in place

High-risk activities, which the CDC urges Americans to avoid, include the following:

  • Going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving
  • Participating or being a spectator at a crowded race
  • Attending crowded parades
  • Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgment and increase risky behaviors
  • Attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household

Now that you have thought about the risk level of certain holiday activities, you can select the ones you feel most comfortable pursuing.

If you decide to host guests in your home, measure the space, or the table, and invite only as many people that would allow you to maintain a truly safe distance—at least six feet apart. Even if your home is large enough to host a small group of guests, and you can seat people at an appropriate distance, something to keep in mind is that when people are eating, face masks come off.  Physical distancing is key, especially when everyone is unmasked during mealtime. Request that face masks stay on when food and drink are not being consumed.

Higher-risk and older people should be seated in spots where they can more easily keep a distance, and/or seat people in close proximity to the people they live with.

Practice good hygiene during the celebration. Wash your hands early and often, doing so for at least 20 seconds with soap and water. You may want to alter your serving style by plating everyone’s meals for them or by serving things that are more individual, such as handpies. Avoid sharing food, drinks, utensils, or other serviceware at all times. Consider using disposable tablecloths and serviceware to make kitchen clean-up easier and to allow for surfaces to be disinfected sooner after the meal.

An outdoor celebration, or at least some outdoor activities, would be a great option since risk seems to be lower with outdoor gatherings. Groups could also wear masks while hanging out and then sit spaced apart with their household units while eating. Again, being close to others is the highest risk, and then touching common surfaces is the second highest.

If you can, limit the number of people from different households cooking together in close proximity, either by ordering takeout, assigning cooking to one household, or if your group is local, doing dinner potluck style. Or if the weather is cooperative, try a cozy fire pit or barbecue cookout outdoors instead.

Every intervention you put in place will increase your ability to host a safer Thanksgiving dinner, although, of course, there is never zero risk.

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