Thanksgiving has always been a holiday full of planning: When should you start thawing the turkey? How many seats will you need at the table? And who—WHO?!—is bringing the pumpkin pie? While this year’s festivities will obviously be different, there will still be some planning involved.
If you have been watching the news, you know that there is a surge in COVID-19 cases right now—not only in Washington State, but throughout the United States. With the colder weather drawing people indoors, and the greater likelihood of transmission in enclosed spaces, it isn’t a surprise that cases have gone up. We also know that COVID-19 cases typically spike in the weeks following holidays when a lot of gatherings of non-household members take place.
With these factors in play, we must ask the uncomfortable question: Should Thanksgiving be canceled or postponed this year? It is a question, at least, to think critically on. After all, the Public Health recommendation continues to be that gatherings should be limited to reduce the risk of transmission.
However, if your family chooses to gather despite these recommendations, there are harm reduction practices that should be put into place. If you decide to gather, there’s always a risk of spreading COVID-19 infection. You can help lessen this risk through pre-planning, conversations, and some trade-offs.
The Washington Department of Health has a great safety checklist for those planning to gather this holiday season. It comes down to three steps: 1) planning before; 2) planning during; and 3) planning after.
Before You Gather
- Have “the conversation.” Get really clear with friends and family about how you will make safety a priority when spending time together. Set some ground rules that will help everyone know what to expect. View a sample conversation guide.
- Review your guest list. Are there people who may be in a high-risk category or children? Think about special needs and precautions as part of your planning.
- Check your space and gather outside if possible. Is there room to spread out, at least 6 feet (2m) from people you don’t live with? If no, is there an outdoor space, like a park where you could meet? If outside, will there be restrooms people can use? If inside, be sure your space is well ventilated by opening windows. Remind guests to wear warm clothes!
- Right-size your guest list. Limit the number of guests based on the number allowed in your county per the Safe Start Plan, and the outdoor or indoor space available that allows you to be 6-feet apart.
- Do a health check. Ask if anyone has had symptoms such as cough, fever or shortness of breath, in the last 2 weeks. Ask guests to check their temperature before arriving. Anyone with a fever—or who has had other symptoms, or knows they have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 within the last two weeks—should stay home.
- Consider the children. Kids have trouble playing 6 feet apart, so wearing masks and frequent hand-washing may be the safest plan of action. Remember: Kids under 2 should never wear masks!
- Make a food plan. Talk through details like how food will be shared. The safest option is to have everyone bring their own food. If sharing, separate food ahead of time into individual servings and forgo communal bowls and utensils. Find more tips about food prep in the FAQs.
- Clean, clean, clean. If you’re hosting, frequently disinfect surfaces that people may encounter during their visit.
- Consider pre-event quarantine. Can all participants (including yourself) self-quarantine for 14 days before the gathering?
- Get tested. If you have been around many other people or do not regularly wear a mask, get a COVID-19 test to make sure you’re negative. Take into account that it can take a few days to receive test results. If you test negative, you still need to wear a mask and keep your distance from others when you socialize.
While You Gather
- Wash early and often. Ask adults and kids to wash hands on arrival, before and after eating, and before they leave with soap for at least 20 seconds. If there is no access to a sink, provide hand sanitizer.
- Gather outdoors if at all possible. If indoors, open windows to increase ventilation.
- Mask up. Wear a face covering at all times when not eating. Consider having extra masks on hand if people forget.
- Separate servings. Avoid communal food and sharing utensils, even with babies and young children. Don’t share drinks.
- Avoid close contact. Smiles and air hugs only, and prepare kids ahead of time to do the same.
After You Gather
- Wash hands (again). Wash for 20 seconds with soap and water.
- Sanitize. Clean all surfaces that may have been touched by guests such as tabletops, counters, doorknobs and bathroom fixtures, with soap and water first, and then a disinfecting agent.
- Watch for symptoms. Alert others at the gathering if there’s a positive test among anyone in attendance. Learn more about what to do if you’ve been exposed.
If you are reading the above steps and feeling absolutely overwhelmed, you aren’t alone! And if the idea of canceling or postponing your Thanksgiving plans feels heartbreaking, that is an entirely normal response. During normal times, the fall and winter months are wonderful times to gather. So, limiting and changing the way in which we gather with family and friends isn’t easy. It may cause feelings of stress, anxiety or depression.
In the end, it is up to you and your family to decide what your Thanksgiving holiday should look like. But it is also important for us all to think hard about what really matters most to us. So even though the holidays may look a bit different this year, we know that our actions—as well as some planning—can go a long way in keeping all of us safe and healthy this winter.
If you are experiencing stress due to COVID-19, call the Washington Listens line at 833-681-0211 for support and resources.