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How to Navigate Thanksgiving During a Pandemic: Tips for 2020
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How to Navigate Thanksgiving During a Pandemic: Tips for 2020

Thanksgiving is usually a welcome break from all of the ordinary hassles of life. It’s also a time to remember traditions and a chance to reconnect with your friends and family. 

This year, of course, things are a little different. The COVID-19 infection rates show no sign of slowing down. As a result, a lot of people find themselves questioning what they should do about Thanksgiving.

Should you cancel your plans to gather with your extended family this year entirely? Should you just limit the gathering a little? Here’s everything you need to know to make the best decisions for you and your loved ones.

What Are the Risks of Holding a Family Gathering?

Let’s be blunt: You need to pick between the emotional benefits of doing something that feels traditional and normal in a year that’s been filled with chaos against the significant physical danger that could come from exposing your loved ones (and being exposed) to a dangerous virus. 

The COVID-19 virus is known to spread better indoors, especially when the weather is cool. That makes any gathering with people outside of your immediate family a significant health risk. You also have to keep in mind that you can’t really tell if someone is infected just by looking at them or taking their temperature. Someone could be contagious as long as 72 hours before they show any symptoms. 

With that in mind, state and local governments alike are trying to clamp down on group events — including Thanksgiving dinners. While Indiana’s governor has only restricted gatherings to 50 people or fewer in counties with an “orange” or “red” infection indicator, Marion County has taken a more drastic approach: Social gatherings in Indianapolis are limited to just 25 people at a time. 

Travel, too, is likely to be complicated this year. If you normally go to Grandma’s house in another city or state for your Thanksgiving dinner, it would be wise to check the restrictions on travelers in that area before you go.  

Basically, if you’ve ever wanted an excuse to “think small” at Thanksgiving and eschew the fuss of a large celebration, this is the year to do it. According to the Centers for Disease Control, your safest bet this year is to simply enjoy a small feast with your immediate family and forgo the rest.

How Can You Stay Safe and Still Engage with Family and Friends?

The idea of a small, intimate meal with the immediate family is great — if you have one. But what if you’re a household of one? What if eliminating your guest list means Mom or Uncle Fred will be left all alone on Thanksgiving?

If the idea of spending the holiday alone or shutting out your solo relatives is simply unpalatable, there are things you can do to work around the problems. Here are some suggestions:

1. Deliver Dinner in Advance

If you normally cook for a big group, why stop? You can prepare meals for your solo loved ones with all their holiday favorites and do some no-contact deliveries. This may be particularly advisable if someone you love is in a high-risk group for problems with the virus and you don’t want to take chances with their health — but you also don’t want to worry that they’re just eating a sandwich for their Thanksgiving dinner.

2. Go Virtual

If your absent loved ones are tech-savvy, you can even combine dinner delivery with a virtual visit. There’s nothing wrong with setting a laptop at the head of the table during Thanksgiving so that Mom can participate in the meal and conversation from the safety of her own home. 

None of these adjustments may be 100% satisfying, but they do avoid unnecessary risks to anyone’s health and avoid the potential of a “superspreader” event.

3. Get Take-Out

If you’re on your own and you don’t want to risk dinner with the relatives, consider take-out. A lot of local restaurants are putting Thanksgiving meals together, so you can support a local business and enjoy your feast at home.

What If You Still Want to Host or Attend the Family Dinner?

If you feel like the family Thanksgiving still must go on, there are things you can do to keep everyone a lot safer. Here are some tips:

1. If You Are Hosting

The first thing you can do (and, perhaps, the most important) to protect yourself and your loved ones is to have a clear conversation with all your invitees. Let them know that you are taking steps to reduce the chances of contagion and you expect everyone to observe the rules while they’re in your home.

With that in mind:

  • Insist that everyone remain masked unless they are eating.
  • Ask guests to bring their own drinks — but forgo their usual contribution to the feast.
  • Only the cook should be permitted in the kitchen.
  • Dinner should be served by the cook so that dishes aren’t passed hand-to-hand.
  • Ask everyone to please wash their hands when they enter your home.
  • Clean and disinfect all frequently-touched surfaces, including bathrooms, between use.
  • Skip the good china and use single-serve plates, utensils and condiment packages.

2. If You Are a Guest

Again, you should probably have a conversation with the host before you get there about their expectations for the event — and yours. Let them know that you’ll be wearing a mask and maintaining your distance for safety.

You should also:

  • Make sure that you have your flu shot.
  • Keep an extra mask and hand sanitizer handy.
  • Avoid hugging or kissing other guests.
  • Wash your hands frequently and avoid touching your mouth, eyes or nose.

Let your relatives know that you aren’t being unfriendly — you just care enough about their safety to maintain your distance.

What Else Can You Do to Keep Thanksgiving Intact (but Safer)?

Finally, you need to think about your usual post-Thanksgiving habits and where to adjust them. This isn’t a good year to plop down in your brother’s basement and play on the PS4 for hours. That gives the virus too much opportunity to spread. When dinner is over, say your goodbyes and head home early. 

It’s also not a great year for the usual Black Friday shopping. Consider taking your search for all the steals and deals online, instead.

Remember: Thanksgiving 2020 may not be “business as usual,” but there’s hope on the horizon. With vaccines being readied for use and a growing understanding of how to mitigate the effects of the virus, 2021 may be a much brighter year.

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