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The 2020 Pandemic Thanksgiving: Creating a “Safer” Gathering for Family and Friends

The 2020 Pandemic Thanksgiving: Creating a “Safer” Gathering for Family and Friends

What is the best plan for safely gathering with family and/or friends this Thanksgiving, given the ongoing pandemic and rising numbers of hospitalizations and COVID-19 cases? What measures can we take to mitigate risk? Infectious disease experts are weighing in on this question.

Here are some tips, based on the current data regarding COVID-19 transmission, as well as some common-sense measures:


  • Limit gatherings to 3 families, including the host family. This seems like a reasonable guideline from everything we know about coronavirus spread in large, crowded settings.
  • Have all guests wash their hands upon arrival and encourage handwashing before and after eating as well. Have hand sanitizer available in several easily accessible areas.
  • Sanitize a bathroom for guests to use. Provide disposable hand towels.
  • Have everyone stay masked unless actively eating or drinking.
  • Control traffic flow and encourage guests to stay distanced from each other during the visit.
  • Limit the time together to 2 hours. This takes organization and planning by the host family.
  • Weather permitting—spend time together outdoors. If this is not possible, be sure the home is well-ventilated and guests are dispersed among various rooms—people tend to congregate in the kitchen, so taking measures to avoid this is a good idea.
  • Rearrange seating in the home to create more space for guests to spread out. Use casual seating such as ottomans, folding chairs, and large pillows, so folks are not huddling together on the sofa.
  • Avoid some traditional activities such as watching the football game or parade, as doing so creates a lot of shouting and close gathering.
  • If your family and friends typically participate in the annual "turkey-trot" race, find an alternative exercise that may be done safely outdoors and limit participation to friends and family in your "bubble."
  • For family and friends who are elderly, medically vulnerable, have ANY symptoms of illness, or have had a known COVID-19 exposure: JUST SAY NO for their health as well as everyone else's. You can enjoy time visiting in a virtual setting—plan a Zoom or FaceTime call—but avoid guests gathering around the device! If you pass around a phone, consider everyone wearing gloves and/or handwashing or sanitizing prior to and after handling the device.

With these kinds of modifications, it is possible to enjoy getting together with family and friends this year, embracing the "new normal" in these unprecedented times. I am 100% over these phrases, but I do want to try to see family and friends safely during this holiday season.

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Filed under: Infectious Diseases, Public Health

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