It is the best of times. It is the worst of times. For many of us the best time of the year is when we gather as a family to celebrate the Thanksgiving and Christmas Holidays. However, this year finds us experiencing the worst pandemic that has burdened this country since the Flu epidemic of 1918. Information and suggestions are ubiquitous so I have condensed recommendations from the White House Coronavirus Task Force, the Centers for Disease Control, and the Kentucky Department of Public Health to create a one-stop shop for recommendations. Traditionally, many families travel long distances to celebrate Thanksgiving together, but this year, staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. Travel increases the chance of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Avoid flying and if you must travel, be informed of the risks involved. Even if you aren’t travelling for the holiday, avoid activities like crowded, indoor dinners that are high risk, especially for seniors, immuno-compromised individuals, and people with medical conditions. Consider fun alternatives that pose lower risk of spreading the virus that causes COVID-19. Please visit http://www.kycovid19.ky.gov for guidance, incidence rate maps, and other information. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidance for holiday celebrations, including Thanksgiving, can be found on the CDC’s website.
In addition to the obvious steps of wearing a mask, maintaining social distancing with anyone not in your immediate family and washing your hands frequently, the CDC offers the following advice:
Attending a Gathering: Make your celebration safer. In addition to following the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer, take these additional steps while attending a Thanksgiving gathering.
Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils.
Wear a mask, and safely store your mask while eating and drinking.
Avoid going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen.
Use single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable items like food containers, plates, and utensils.
Hosting a Thanksgiving Gathering: If having guests to your home, be sure that people follow the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer. Other steps you can take include:
Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.
Limit the number of guests.
Have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.
Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use.
If celebrating indoors, make sure to open windows.
Limit the number of people in food preparation areas.
Have guests bring their own food and drink.
If sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils.
Thanksgiving Travel: Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.
Check travel restrictions before you go.
Get your flu shot before you travel.
Always wear a mask in public settings and on public transportation.
Stay at least 6 feet apart from anyone who is not in your household.
Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer.
Avoid touching your mask, eyes, nose, and mouth.
Bring extra supplies, such as masks and hand sanitizer.
Here are some activities and their associated risks based on the nature of virus transmission. Remember: The virus does not move! People move! If they are infected they take the virus with them.
Lower risk activities
Having a small dinner with only people who live in your household
Preparing traditional family recipes for family and neighbors, especially those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and delivering them in a way that doesn’t involve contact with others
Having a virtual dinner and sharing recipes with friends and family
Shopping online rather than in person on the day after Thanksgiving or the next Monday
Watching sports events, parades, and movies from home with only people who live in your household
Moderate risk activities
Having a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community
Lower your risk by following CDC’s recommendations on hosting gatherings or cook-outs.
Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is required, and people are able to maintain social distancing
Attending a small outdoor sports event with safety precautions in place
Higher risk activities (Avoid these higher risk activities to help prevent the spread of the virus that causes COVID-19):
Going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving
Participating or being a spectator at a crowded race or large sporting event
Attending crowded parades
Using drugs, or alcohol in excess, which can cloud judgement and urge risky behavior
Attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household
The risk of virus spread at holiday celebrations
Celebrating virtually or with members of your own household poses low risk for spread. In-person gatherings pose varying levels of risk. Event organizers and attendees should consider the risk of virus spread based on event size and use of mitigation strategies. It is important to protect older individuals, immunocompromised people, and people with medical conditions. There are several factors that contribute to the risk of becoming infected or infecting others with the virus that causes COVID-19 at a holiday celebration. In combination, these factors will create various amounts of risk, so it is important to consider them individually and together:
Community levels of COVID-19 – Higher levels of COVID-19 cases and community spread in the gathering location, as well as where attendees are coming from, increase the risk of infection and spread among attendees. Family and friends should consider the number and rate of COVID-19 cases in their community and in the community where they plan to celebrate when considering whether to host or attend a holiday celebration. Information on the number of cases in an area can be found on the area’s health department website.
The location of the gathering – Indoor gatherings generally pose more risk than outdoor gatherings. Indoor gatherings with poor ventilation pose more risk than those with good ventilation, such as those with open windows or doors.
The duration of the gathering – Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings.
The number of people at the gathering – Gatherings with more people pose greater risk than gatherings with fewer people. CDC does not have a limit or recommend a specific number of attendees for gatherings. The Kentucky Cabinet for Health and Family Services, however, provided a directive on July 20, 2020 limiting gatherings to 10 people or fewer. https://governor.ky.gov/attachments/20200720_Order_Mass-Gatherings.pdf
The behaviors of attendees prior to the gathering – Gatherings with attendees who are not adhering to social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart), wearing masks, washing hands, and engaging in other preventative behaviors pose more risk than gatherings with attendees who are engaging in these preventative behaviors.
The behaviors of attendees during the gathering – Gatherings with more preventive measures in place, such as mask wearing, social distancing, and hand washing, pose less risk than gatherings where fewer or no preventive measures are being implemented.
People who should not attend in-person holiday celebrations
People with or exposed to COVID-19: Do not host or participate in any in-person festivities if you or anyone in your household:
Has been diagnosed with COVID-19 and has not met the criteria for when it is safe to be around others
Has symptoms of COVID-19
Is waiting for COVID-19 viral test results
May have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 days
Is at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19
People at increased risk for severe illness
If you are at increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, or live or work with someone at increased risk of severe illness, you should:
Avoid in-person gatherings with people who do not live in your household.
Avoid larger gatherings and consider attending activities that pose lower risk (as described previously) if you decide to attend an in-person gathering with people who do not live in your household.