Six tips for Thanksgiving dinner: How to celebrate the holidays safely during the pandemic

The holiday season is upon us and we feel the need to be close to family, but that only increases the chance of spreading or even getting the coronavirus. Precautions should be taken for family members and friends who may be vulnerable.

Here are six steps to help keep your holiday celebrations a little safer:

The safest way is to celebrate at home with your immediate household. In multiple interviews, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, has expressed concern that coming holiday celebrations could further increase transmission rates of the coronavirus. He advises Americans to forgo their big, traditional holiday plans.

There are several options for you to connect with family for a virtual holiday dinner. Experts suggest using Zoom, Skype, Teams or Google Meet to stay connected.

CDC recommends no traveling for Thanksgiving

Holiday travelers risk COVID-19 exposure if they travel through airports, train stations and gas stations, which in turn can spread to family members you are visiting.

Dr. Henry Walke, the CDC’s COVID-19 incident manager says, “We understand that people want to see their family and relatives and do it as they’ve always done it. But this year we’re asking them to limit their travel.” 

For those who want the traditional holiday dinner with friends or family, it’s best to keep the gathering small. In a recent study, researchers found homes are now the main source for COVID-19 transmissions. Invite only those who you know in your social bubble, those who share similar pandemic-related safety behaviors. And ask if anyone has had any recent health issues before they come over. Some states have restricted the number of people who can gather in one place. Family members might assume that their loved ones are not infected simply because they know them well. 

If people outside your immediate family are visiting, remember these three simple steps – wear a mask, social distance and wash your hands. People without symptoms of COVID-19 may be able to spread the disease.

Mercedes Carnethon, vice chair of preventive medicine at Northwestern University Feinberg School of Medicine, encouraged people to wear masks and maintain social distance into the holiday season.

“We have to sustain this level of vigilance at this time, and it’s very hard over the holidays,” she said. “As I think about not seeing my family, it’s really hard. But that chance can be a real gamble – almost a Russian roulette.”

Reduce the number of people preparing the holiday foods in the kitchen. Those with unwashed hands, which may contaminate surfaces, should be kept out of the kitchen. Since the virus spreads so easily from touched surfaces, limit food servers to one or two people and have them wear masks when handing out food. This limits the number of people handling plates and serving utensils. Try single-use items for salt and pepper, butter or dressings. And make sure your guests wash their hands before dinner.

Due to the fact that homes today don’t recirculate indoor air quickly, respiratory droplets or aerosol particles can land on tabletops, chairs, door handles and other objects people frequently touch. The CDC suggests having a few windows open to help cross ventilate rooms. This may raise the heating bill, but will lower the risks for those involved. If weather permits, take the gathering outside. Space heaters or fire pits can help keep things warm and reduce the risk of transmission.

To reduce the amount of time people may be exposed to a possible infected person, it’s best to keep your visit short. 

Contributing: Grace Hauck, Jayme Fraser, Adrianna Rodriguez, Sara M Moniuszko, USA TODAY; Marcia Greenwood, USA TODAY Network; SOURCE CDC; USA TODAY research

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