Here's how the CDC says you can celebrate Thanksgiving safely

Many families are wondering whether or how they’ll be able to celebrate Thanksgiving this year amid the coronavirus pandemic. To help families make informed decisions and stay safe, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued specific guidelines for holiday celebrations, including Thanksgiving.

The guidelines identify which activities are low-risk, such as having a small holiday dinner only with people in your household, and which ones are high risk, such as attending large indoor gatherings.

“The guidelines are pretty straightforward and consistent with what we’ve been saying more or less all along,” Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, the chief quality and patient safety officer for The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, tells Yahoo Life. “They’ve helped people take what have been general guidelines for [coronavirus] precautions in our daily activities and apply them… specifically around Thanksgiving. It’s still all about avoiding crowds, hand hygiene, mask utilization [and] social distancing.”

Normally, many people travel to see family and friends over the Thanksgiving holiday, but amid the pandemic, that can increase the risk of “getting and spreading COVID-19,” according to the agency. “Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others.” But for those who are planning to travel to see family over the holiday, the CDC has issued travel safety guidelines.

The CDC recommends people make their favorite Thanksgiving dishes for family and find no-contact ways to deliver the meals amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Getty Images)
The CDC recommends people make their favorite Thanksgiving dishes for family and find no-contact ways to deliver the meals amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo: Getty Images)

If you’re planning on hosting or attending a Thanksgiving gathering with family and friends, the CDC recommends first finding out what the number and rate of COVID-19 cases are in your community (you can find that information here), since higher levels increase the spread of the virus.

The CDC and health experts caution that any time you gather with people outside of your current household, you’re putting your health at risk. “The more people an individual interacts with at a gathering and the longer that interaction lasts, the higher the potential risk of becoming infected with COVID-19 and COVID-19 spreading,” according to the CDC.

Adds Gonsenhauser: “When you introduce 5-10 new people” to a gathering, you have “no idea how big their circle is and how many people they’ve been exposed to. That’s the risk of holding a larger gathering.”

For those trying to navigate safe ways to celebrate this Thanksgiving, the CDC has some suggestions:

Lower-risk activities

The CDC’s recommendations of low-risk activities include limiting interactions with others to reduce the spread of the coronavirus. The organization suggests:

  • Planning a small Thanksgiving dinner with the family members who already live in your household, or doing a virtual Thanksgiving dinner to include more family members and friends

  • Making favorite Thanksgiving dishes for extended family and neighbors and finding no-contact ways to deliver the meals

  • Shopping post-Thanksgiving sales online rather than in-person

  • Watching the Thanksgiving Day Parade, sporting events and movies from home

Moderate-risk activities

In areas where community transmission is relatively low, some families may feel comfortable having an in-person Thanksgiving gathering with friends and family. But it’s important to follow your area’s local ordinances on how many people are allowed to gather indoors or outdoors.

“If people really are set on having a larger event, there are ways to reduce the risk,” says Gonsenhauser. “Socially distant seating arrangements, using masks as much as possible, and trying to hold the event outdoors or in a very large, well-ventilated area — all of those can be done to try and reduce the risk.”

The CDC states that moderate-risk activities include:

  • Hosting or attending a small outdoor holiday dinner with family and friends who live in your community, while maintaining social distancing between different households

  • Visiting pumpkin patches or going apple picking where wearing masks is “encouraged or enforced,” there’s social distancing, and “people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples”

  • Going to small outdoor sporting events as long as safety precautions are in place, including social distancing (the CDC has more information on how to safely attend a sports event here)

High-risk activities

The CDC recommends that people avoid any high-risk activities, which increases the chances of spreading the virus. They include:

  • Gathering indoors with large groups of people who are not part of your household

  • Shopping in crowded stores before, during, or after the Thanksgiving holiday

  • Attending or participating in a crowded parade or race, such as a holiday run

  • Drinking alcohol or using drugs, which can affect judgment and make people less likely to follow safety protocols

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides.

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