This year, Thanksgiving should look a little different.
That’s what health experts are hoping for during the COVID-19 pandemic.
Instead of extended family joining together around one table — grabbing extra chairs to squeeze everyone in and bumping elbows to reach the turkey — there should be few gatherings, even among family.
If there are group gatherings for the holiday, they should be small, outdoors and as safe as possible. Before making plans this year, families should consider cutting down the number of people they usually spend Thanksgiving with, Catawba Valley Medical Center infectious disease doctor Wheaton Williams said. If there are family members at higher risk, those who are over 65 or have chronic health problems, they should consider staying home.
“I think that every family is going to have to consider this carefully but I do think that any family gathering like that is going to be different,” Williams said. “I think it’s going to be important to be aware of those risk factors for elderly patients. The safest thing may be not to attend such a gathering.”
The N.C. Department of Health and Human Services is recommending that people limit Thanksgiving meals to only those living in one household and not travel to attend a holiday celebration. When that isn’t possible, there are steps to take to make the gathering safer, according to the NCDHHS guidance.
Beforehand, those attending should limit their interaction with anyone outside their household as much as possible, to lessen the possibility of getting COVID-19. In addition, people should consider getting a COVID-19 screening test close to the day of the gathering. A negative result only gives information for that one point in time, so self-isolating is still important, according to NCDHHS.
Everyone attending a gathering should check themselves for COVID-19 symptoms, like a cough or fever, the day before the event and should stay home if they have any symptoms.
The home or building where the event is going to be should be cleaned and disinfected the day of the gathering, according to NCDHHS.
“Following all of those recommendations does make a difference,” Williams said.
The decision to cancel the traditional Thanksgiving gathering is a hard one, fellow Catawba Valley Medical Center infectious disease doctor Veronica Corcino said. Some people may not think COVID-19 is serious and may hold gatherings anyway, she said.
“I think the most important thing is just to think before the holidays are coming, Thanksgiving and Christmas, it’s very serious,” she said. “The majority of the (coronavirus) patients do well, but that percentage (who don’t) could be your grandmother, your grandfather, even your mother, that could be very sick. It’s time to think not only of yourself but your family members.”
If at all possible, the gathering should be held outside, and those living in different households should sit at different tables. People who live together do not need to separate and can sit at one table.
When not eating or drinking, it is still important to wear masks and stay at least six feet apart, the guidance says.
It may help to keep people out of the area where the food is being prepared to limit germs spread on the food itself. When it’s being served, families should consider having one person serve everyone’s food, so only one person handles the serving utensils. Single-use condiments and containers can also limit multiple people touching one item.
Leeanne Whisnant, Alexander County’s consolidated human services director, oversees the health department. She said she expects people to still host Thanksgiving gatherings. She just hopes people are safe.
“We can do things but if we can wear our masks, keep our distance, do good etiquette, it’s better,” Whisnant said.
She also urged people to consider keeping their elderly and immuno-compromised family members at home. They could be included virtually through video or brought a meal by one close family member.
Elderly family members have been isolated for months now, so it's still important to include them in the holiday in some way, Whisnant said. “I think we have to get creative because I do worry about our older folks who have quarantined and stayed in for so long," Whisnant said. “It’s getting really, really hard for them.”
The holidays are about family, but this year, people should care for their family members in a different way — by keeping their distance, Corcino said.
“I will say, this is the time to think of your family and think of yourself,” she said.
"It’s time to think not only of yourself but your family members."
CVMC infectious disease doctor Veronica Corcino
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