family celebrating Thanksgiving virtually

How do you celebrate Thanksgiving safely in 2020?

With the recent increase in new COVID-19 cases, Thanksgiving 2020 poses challenging new safety risks. Small household gatherings have been shown to be a major contributor to the rise in new cases, making Thanksgiving and COVID-19 a particularly dangerous combination.

It’s possible to celebrate safely, but it will require making some major adjustments. It’s best to forgo the usual large, extended gatherings typical of past Thanksgiving celebrations. This year, in thinking about Thanksgiving and COVID-19, you’ll need to completely rethink who to invite, where to hold your festivities, and what precautions to take before, during, and after your Thanksgiving 2020 celebration. The following Thanksgiving safety tips can help you take COVID-19 off the table.

Pare down your guest list

The CDC’s Thanksgiving recommendations for COVID-19 include limiting your gathering to only those people in your immediate household or, at the very least, those you trust to be safe. Exclude anyone:

  • Not following appropriate prevention guidelines prior to the event
  • Diagnosed or exposed to COVID-19 within the past 14 days
  • Experiencing symptoms of COVID-19
  • Awaiting test results
  • With a higher risk of exposure, such as older adults and people with certain medical conditions
  • Who might expose someone at a high risk

It’s also a good idea to keep a list of everyone who attends your gathering, in case it’s needed for contact tracing later. Before accepting an invitation to a holiday event, ask the host or hostess about the gathering size and what COVID-19 prevention measures will be in place.

Celebrate virtually

If you plan to host your own Thanksgiving celebration, it’s best to adhere to the CDC’s Thanksgiving safety tips for COVID-19 and keep your gathering small. Use video visits to share your festivities with family members and friends not living under the same roof. It’s important to note that college students returning home from school should be considered part of a different household for safety reasons.

Before you finalize your Thanksgiving and COVID-19 plans, carefully evaluate the following:

  • The level of COVID-19 cases in the communities where you and your guests live
  • Possible opportunities for exposure during travel, such as at airports, bus stations, train stations, rest stops, gas stations, and public transportation
  • The location of the gathering, whether indoors, outdoors, or in an area with poor ventilation
  • The duration of the gathering (being in close proximity to someone with COVID-19 for a total of 15 minutes or more greatly increases your risk)
  • The number of people attending, since this will present more opportunities for infection
  • Previous preventive measures followed by those attending, such as mask wearing, maintaining a safe distance from others, and frequent hand washing
  • Behavior during the event, including the use of alcohol or drugs, as this can impact judgment and encourage unsafe behavior

Take your gathering outdoors

If you’ll be hosting your holiday gathering at home and you live in a warmer climate, consider taking the festivities outdoors. If you must hold an indoor event, open a window to increase ventilation. In either case, allow enough space so that guests can maintain a safe social distance throughout the celebration. You can place multiple tables six feet apart, and limit seating at each to only those within the same household.

If possible, stagger your guests’ arrival times to avoid crowding in entryways. You should also discourage guests from congregating in hallways, lines outside restrooms, or other congested areas. It’s especially important to avoid crowding in kitchens and food prep areas.

Encourage frequent hand washing among guests by setting up hand-washing stations in convenient locations. Make sure these are stocked with a sufficient supply of soap, single-use paper towels, and/or a hand sanitizer containing at least 60% alcohol. Suggest that your guests clean up upon arrival, before eating, and after the meal. Ask them to stash their masks in plastic storage bags or another safe place while eating.

Additional Thanksgiving recommendations for COVID-19 include limiting the number of people handling food, plates, and utensils. Offer single-use servings of salad dressings and condiments, or appoint one person to serve these items. Avoid buffet-style banquets, where serving utensils will be shared, as well as crowded drink stations and other areas with frequently touched surfaces.

Make clean-up a priority

To avoid spreading germs, clean up immediately after the meal. Launder linen items, such as tablecloths, seat covers, and napkins. Have no-touch trashcans on hand so that guests can easily discard their own food items. Wash dishes in a dishwasher, or by hand with hot, soapy water, as soon as your gathering is over.

Immediately after eating, spend time together outdoors. You can invite guests to take a walk or simply sit outside, spaced at least six feet apart. Entertain kids with appropriately spaced, sidewalk chalk activities. Avoid singing or shouting, however, as this can more quickly spread germs.

Follow these Thanksgiving safety tips for COVID-19, and you should have a safe and healthy holiday celebration. For COVID-19 testing either before or after your Thanksgiving festivities, or if you have questions regarding your risk of contracting COVID-19, consult your SignatureMD-affiliated concierge doctor for advice.