By: Sarah Jacoby

What’s the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving amid COVID-19? Some traditional activities, like a big dinner with visiting friends and family, are riskier than others this year. But that doesn’t mean you can’t celebrate at all—you just have to be careful and lower the risks as much as possible for yourself and others.

To prevent the spread of COVID-19, Thanksgiving probably will—and definitely should—look different this year. Having a big, indoor, traditional Thanksgiving dinner with people flying in from out of town is especially risky, Anthony Fauci, M.D., director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said in a recent interview. And people may simply want to forgo that this year, particularly if any of your guests have risk factors that make them more likely to have severe COVID-19 symptoms, he said. Those risk factors include older age as well as certain underlying health conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease, and long-term lung conditions, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

That’s why, when you’re planning to have Thanksgiving festivities amid COVID-19, you need to take the potential risks into account—and understand that taking those risks can have severe consequences for some people. These are the activities that come with the highest risk for COVID-19, according to the CDC:

  • Going to large, indoor gatherings with people you don’t already live with.
  • Participating in or attending a crowded race.
  • Going to crowded parades in person.
  • Shopping in crowded stores around or right after Thanksgiving (like shopping on Black Friday).
  • Using drugs or alcohol that might cloud your judgment, leading you to take part in risky activities.

There are also a few moderately risky options, the CDC says. Those include having a small outdoor dinner with friends and family who live in your community; going to small outdoor sports events where there are safety precautions in place; and visiting an apple orchard or pumpkin patch where people are wearing masks, social distancing, and sanitizing their hands. These activities make use of outdoor space where ventilation isn’t a concern and rely on the pubic health strategies we’ve been using for months now, such as wearing masks in public.

We know that COVID-19 spreads mainly via respiratory droplets, which contain viral particles. People who have the infection release respiratory droplets when they talk, cough, sneeze, or yell. From there, people who are susceptible to the virus can inhale the droplets, or the droplets can land in someone else’s eyes, nose, or mouth. The virus is most likely to spread when people are closer together for a longer period of time—especially if they’re indoors and/or not wearing masks.

That means that the absolute safest way to celebrate this year is to interact with just the people already in your household, to connect with those outside your household virtually, and to participate in virtual events rather than IRL ones. The CDC says the safest Thanksgiving activitiesthis year include:

  • Having a small dinner with just the people you already live with.
  • Watching any sports, parades, or other events from home.
  • Having a virtual dinner with your family and friends via video chat.
  • Making food and delivering it (without contact) to those at higher risk for friends, family, and neighbors—especially those who are at a higher risk for severe COVID-19 complications.

It may be devastating for some people to have to skip these traditions, but the situation is dire enough to warrant it. And although Thanksgiving may be different this year thanks to the coronavirus pandemic, there are still safe ways to connect with your friends and family and eat some delicious food.


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