It’s hard to feel perky about Turkey Day amid the coronavirus pandemic, with large, indoor gatherings discouraged in the fight against the viral disease. But ahead of the holiday, health experts are advising Americans to count their blessings and tweak traditions to celebrate safely, when possible.
The smartest thing to do, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), is to stay home, avoid travel and host any gatherings outdoors if possible. In a recent update to the CDC's holiday guidance amid a fall surge of COVID-19 cases, the public health institute added that the safest Thanksgiving plans are ones celebrated with members of your own household.
The Monday update further urged older adults and others at heightened risk of severe illness from COVID-19 to avoid celebrating the holiday with people they do not live with.
It's a bit of advice that’s “as tough to swallow as dry turkey,” the Associated Press remarked. But as was observed in Canada, cases of COVID-19 spiked after the country celebrated its own Thanksgiving celebrations in October.
“This sucks. It really, really does,” said Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau. America’s northern neighbor celebrated Thanksgiving on Oct. 12, and clusters of COVID-19 cases linked to family gatherings soon followed.
There’s no need to “cancel” Thanksgiving, however, according to an expert who spoke with the Associated Press. Lacy Fehrenbach, Washington state deputy secretary of health, encourages families to embrace new traditions on Nov. 26, like hiking outdoors and limiting the dinner guest list, so people can keep a 6-foot distance while unmasked and eating.
The more people that attend a celebration, Fehrenbach explained, the greater the odds are that someone will be carrying the virus.
Folks looking to quarantine before Turkey Day (i.e. no grocery shopping, no work outside the home and no in-person work) should mark their calendars for Nov. 13 to begin holing up, added Lindsey Leininger, a clinical professor at Dartmouth College.
While the best day to get tested for COVID would be as close to Nov. 26 as possible, a test might not catch a still-brewing infection, the outlet reports.
Instead, Leininger says her own kids will chat with their grandparents through Zoom on Thanksgiving, and the family will briefly meet up with neighbors outside for pie.
“We bring our own pie and they bring their own pie,” she explained. “It’s cold here in northern New England, but pie can be a quick activity.”
Soup kitchens and volunteer services are also adjusting plans ahead of the holiday.
Determined to fulfill their Thanksgiving mission, the nonprofit HealthBarn Foundation in New Jersey will be preparing and freezing individual meals for seniors to reheat and enjoy at home on Turkey Day. In years past, the foundation would host a traditional sit-down dinner for 150 older adults
“No one wanted to cancel it,” said HealthBarn director Stacey Antine said of the festivities. “You want to show that you still love people and honor them. And you want to make sure that they have nutritious food for this important holiday dinner.”
Everyday citizens who are heeding the experts' advice say they'll miss the traditional festivities.
“It’s a sad time,” remarked Washington resident Olga Garcia of her family's Thanksgiving plans in a statement to the Associated Press. “But it can also be a grateful time: that we’re all here, that we have a roof over our head, a job to go to and enough food to go around. And for those that don’t have enough, we can say, ‘Here’s a plate.’”
Garcia added that instead of a traditional gathering, she and her family are planning to divvy up the cooking duties and exchange portions via dropoff delivery on Thanksgiving day. Later, the entire clan will hop on a group call during dinner.
With a little bit of careful planning to keep loved ones safe around the Thanksgiving table this year – whether gathering in-person, outdoors or virtually – the rest can be gravy, during this year unlike any other.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.