Keeping your family safe this Thanksgiving – Harvard Health Blog

So many things are different and difficult during this pandemic – including vacation planning.

It’s understandable to want to get together with friends and family. We are all so exhausted from the COVID-19 pandemic and need to cheer ourselves up. And most of us have friends and family that we haven’t really spent time with – or seen at all – in months.

But getting together with friends and family can pose real risks during the pandemic, especially with cases on the rise across the country. All it takes is a sick person – who may not even realize they are sick – to infect others and spread the virus even further.

The best thing you can do, honestly, is celebrate the holidays with just the people you live with and skip sporting (or other) events in person, or Black Friday shopping in person. It really is the best way to protect everyone. Crouch down, virtually check in, and make plans for the next year, when things will hopefully go a lot better.

Still planning to get together for Thanksgiving?

While experts advise skipping Thanksgiving gatherings, here are some recommendations to help limit the risk for people planning to celebrate the holiday with others.

Plans to make in advance

  • Travel safely if you travel. The safest way is to take the car with only the people you live with, but if it requires an overnight stay somewhere, a direct flight is probably safer. If you are traveling by plane, look for flights that separate people, wear a mask, and bring hand sanitizer and wipes.
  • Keep the numbers low. It’s just not the year of a big family reunion.
  • Keep the party short. Nor is it the year of a long family reunion.
  • Agree on “no symptoms” and “no exposure”. Make sure everyone understands that whoever has all symptoms of COVID-19, or has been exposed to a person infected with the virus, may not come. It must be non-negotiable.
  • Agree to socialize outside if possible. If you must be indoors, do whatever you can to improve ventilation, such as opening windows (but understand that this is not as safe as being outdoors).

Seats and food

  • Arrange seating so that there is at least six feet between family members who do not live together.
  • Be aware of the risks when planning the meal:
    • Ideally, everyone should bring their own food and not share.
    • If some people are cooking, ask them to wear gloves and masks. And limit who is involved in preparing shared meals.
    • No buffets this year. Think of pre-served plates of food that people can take and bring in their place.
    • If you are serving food, have someone wearing a mask and gloves do the entire serving.
    • Try to use individual servings of condiments (like salt and pepper packets) so that people don’t all touch the same container.
  • Use disposable plates, cutlery, and cooking utensils if possible.
  • Use contactless trash cans or buckets.

Masks, physical contact and disinfection of hands and surfaces

  • Wear masks when you’re not eating and when you can’t be six feet apart. I know it sounds strange and difficult at a family reunion, but it’s crucial.
  • No hugs or other physical contact between people who do not live together. Even elbows are not a good idea. Not this year.
  • Everyone should wash their hands often. Have hand sanitizer on hand.
  • Regularly wipe down surfaces (keep wipes in the bathroom, for example).

Finally, don’t go to sporting events or crowded stores. Once again: not the year for this. It just isn’t worth the risk.

For more information on keeping your family safe during the holiday season, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website or the Harvard Health Publishing Coronavirus Resource Center.

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Jothi Venkat

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