Health & Science

The CDC Released Recs For Thanksgiving—Here’s How To Celebrate Safely

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Like so many other activities, birthdays, and pastimes, Thanksgiving is going to look different this year. Many families are wondering if it’s safe to plan for the usual sit-down-dinner family tradition. Even Anthony Fauci, M.D., the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, has said he’s not celebrating Thanksgiving with his children this year because of the risks associated with Covid-19. If Dr Fauci’s not doing it, should the rest of us forgo our usual Thanksgiving plans, too?

Know the risk levels

Every family has to decide what’s best for them—but to help reach the decision, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has released a list of Thanksgiving-related activities according to risk. The lowest risk activities include having a small dinner with only those family members who live with you, delivering meals to friends and family with little to no contact, and anything you can do using WiFi (such as holiday shopping, virtual dinners where you eat “together” but not in person, and watching sports or parades from home). 

More moderate risk activities include outdoor gatherings (if the weather allows), other al fresco fall activities like apple picking and visiting a pumpkin patch (assuming everyone uses hand sanitizer frequently, wears a mask, and maintains social distancing), and any small- to medium-sized events where there is significant social distancing and mask-wearing taking place.

Unfortunately, one of the things associated most closely with the holiday—enjoying a Thanksgiving dinner in person with friends or family from outside your household, whether you’re hosting or traveling to other communities to celebrate there—is considered high risk. Spending time in crowded areas, whether it’s at a shopping mall, a larger sporting event, or a parade, is considered high risk too, so the CDC suggests avoiding those as much as possible. Not surprisingly, using alcohol or drugs is considered high risk because both can impair your judgment, prompting you to forget to take proper precautions. 

Look for new ways to celebrate

There are still plenty of ways to make the Thanksgiving season feel special. Fewer people to cook for may mean fewer smiling faces around the table, but it also means a lot less stress, so it’s important to look at the positives. Find unique ways to mark this extraordinary year, such as by creating a time capsule with drawings, pictures, and notes highlighting some of the best moments of the year. There’s always something good you can point to in the spirit of Thanksgiving, and it’s a great time to help our kids find new ways to express gratitude

You can also try spending time looking through old pictures with your loved ones. Kids, especially, love seeing pictures of themselves when they were younger, plus seeing the faces of other family members, even those they don’t get to see often, will help them feel part of a larger unit. It’s a different path to the Thanksgiving warm-and-fuzzies, but it works!

Another great way to mark this unique year is with a family history presentation using photos and videos and a free editing tool like Flexclip or Animoto. If you have a large family that’s spread out in different locations, set up a virtual call so everyone can watch the presentation together at the same time. 

Active families can mark the day by working up a sweat with a potato sack race, a backyard family soccer match, or a special arts and crafts project that can be used to decorate the dinner table, no matter how small it is this year. Again, these activities are most safely enjoyed with members of your own household, but they can still be reasonably safe if you limit the number of participants, stay outdoors, and stay six feet apart.

Have an aunt or uncle with a special Thanksgiving recipe that’s beloved by everyone? Ask them to host a virtual cooking class for the rest of the family. This way, everyone can spend time together and still enjoy the delicious dish. It’s also a great way for a grandmother or older family member to pass down their recipe to the next generation. Make sure to record the session so you can watch it years down the line or anytime your kiddo is missing their gramps. 

You can also take your celebrations beyond your own family this year. Take some time to teach your kids about Thanksgiving’s history from the Indigenous peoples’ perspective—something they may not have learned about in school. Look at a map of tribal nations together and find out more about the history of the land you live on. Tribal Nations Maps is a good source for maps, puzzles, and postcards to explore, and the Native Lands interactive map makes it easy for you to explore the history of your region with your child.

If you do celebrate in person…

Families that decide to gather as usual can move the dinner outside. Ask younger children to play “doctor” with guests as they arrive using a symptom checklist. Just hand them a clipboard and a list of symptoms to ask guests about, and you’ll have all the little ones begging for a turn to play doc before you know it. This is a playful way to remind everyone that safety is your top priority, which you should make clear to everyone before they arrive.

You can further lower the risk of outdoor feasts with friends and distant family by limiting the number of shared surfaces and spaces at the event. For example, give each household their own table and dishes to serve from, instead of everyone serving from the same buffet. It also helps to limit the number of people handling food.

Ahead of the big day, have groceries delivered to minimize your exposure to others. If delivery isn’t possible, do as much grocery shopping in advance as you can. This helps avoid big crowds and last minute trips.

Ideally, your family and your guests will be able to quarantine for 14 days prior to your gathering. Most of the time, any symptoms from an active case of COVID-19 will appear within 14 days of exposure. Everyone could get tested for the virus before the holiday, though experts warn that you should still use preventative measures like masks and hand washing, even if everything tests negative. False negatives can occur, especially early in an infection, so testing is no guarantee of safety.

If you absolutely must gather indoors, suggest that everyone keep their masks on. Open the windows and doors for maximum air flow, and rearrange furniture so no one sits too close to each other. Instead of a kids table this year, consider separating older family members or those more susceptible to complications. 

With a little thoughtfulness and careful planning, every family can make Thanksgiving special this year. One thing’s for sure: No one will forget this one!

The former Content Director at Parenting, and several other brands, Ana Connery is a writer and content strategist whose work appears in USA Today, Reader's Digest, Real Simple, Cafe Mom/The Stir, Momtastic, and others.