6 Tips for Hosting a COVID-Cautious Thanksgiving Dinner

With just two weeks until turkey day, the latest information could affect your plans.

As coronavirus cases surge across the United States, new guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) may have some Thanksgiving hosts and guests rethinking their plans. CDC experts recommend sharing meals only with those in your household or quaranteam.

Agency experts also recommend getting a flu shot and making sure everyone else in your household is up to date on theirs.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, one of the nation's top experts in infectious diseases, has said he and his wife will celebrate Thanksgiving virtually with their three adult daughters because of safety concerns and their diverse home environments.

Overhead of Turkey, cranberry sauce and other Thanksgiving foods
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6 Tips to Host a Safe Thanksgiving During the Coronavirus Pandemic

There is a bit of good news for the holiday that's centered around a feast. "Food has not been shown to be a risk factor in transmission," says Natalie Seymour, a food safety extension associate at North Carolina State University in Raleigh, North Carolina. The greatest risk for COVID-19 comes from person-to-person transmission, which is generally a factor when you're within six feet of others for 15 minutes or longer, she explains. With that in mind, here are six steps to invite right and host smart.

01 of 06

Know the infection rates for your guests' communities.

Positivity rates are increasing throughout the country. You can check your state's trends via Johns Hopkins University and go in-depth with your community's information on the CDC's website. If positivity rates are increasing, health officials encourage participation in a virtual dinner or postponement to "springsgiving."

"Elderly and immunocompromised people should not attend in-person Thanksgiving dinner celebrations, especially if the rate of community spread is high or growing, and if the holiday will be celebrated indoors," says Dr. Sandra Kesh, deputy medical director and infectious disease specialist at Westmed Medical Group in Westchester, New York. However, the CDC notes that preparing food for high-risk neighbors and friends and delivering in a contactless way poses a low risk.

02 of 06

Check for any local restrictions or gathering limits.

If you're wondering how many people to invite to Thanksgiving, research any local restrictions. "Many states have guidance on the number of people for indoor versus outdoor gatherings based on local data, so that's a good place to start," says Natalie Seymour, a food safety extension associate at N.C. State University.

Reduce risk by limiting the number of households in attendance, or invite only family members who are local. If you are missing loved ones, a virtual dinner with family members who don't live with you is one way to share the day with them.

"As hard as it is to be apart, it's best if those who are elderly or immunocompromised join virtually instead of in person," Seymour says.

Related: How to Host a Virtual Happy Hour

Related: Delicious Thanksgiving Dinners Recipes for Two

03 of 06

Measure your available space and invite accordingly.

Now that you have the public data, it's time to examine your space. Before inviting people to your home, grab a measuring tape, and get ready to do a little math.

"What's the size and layout of the space you are hoping to host in? Measure the space, or the table if you're planning to share it, and invite only as many people that would allow you to maintain a truly safe distance—at least 6 feet apart," Kesh says. "Even if your residence is large enough to host a small group of guests, and you can seat people at an appropriate distance, something to keep in mind is that when people are eating, your face masks come off. Physical distancing is key, especially when everyone is unmasked during mealtime."

To prevent the spread of germs, including the coronavirus or an influenza strain, "anyone over the age of 3 should definitely wear masks when not eating if they are going to be indoors," Kesh says.

When worn over the nose and mouth, face coverings have been proven to reduce the spray of airborne respiratory droplets, the CDC reports.

04 of 06

Get creative with your location and serving style.

Yes, we know your Thanksgiving traditions might include rubbing elbows at a cozy communal table, challenging each other at board games, and congregating around the finger food spread during the Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade and football games. But 2020 is the time to flip the script.

"People have been exposed to the virus from airborne particles, and the virus can be easily contracted that way, especially in smaller, non-ventilated areas," Hesh says. "Ventilation makes a big difference because we now know that the virus is transmitted mostly through close and prolonged contact [the CDC clarified in October 2020 that this means 15 minutes or more] with an infected person."

Seymour says an outdoor celebration, "or at least some outdoor activities," is a lower-risk option. "Groups could also wear masks while hanging out and then sit spaced apart with their household units while eating.

"Again, being close to others is the highest risk, and then touching common surfaces is the second highest."

If you can, limit the number of people from different households cooking together in close proximity, either by ordering takeout, assigning cooking to one household, or if your group is local, doing dinner potluck style. If the weather is cooperative, try a cozy fire pit or barbecue cookout instead, Seymour says.

(Psst...Our Test Kitchen recently developed a New England Grilled Turkey recipe that explains how to "roast" a whole bird completely on a grill.)

Related: Doctor's Tips for Safely Gathering Post-Pandemic

Related: Outdoor Living Trends Post-Pandemic

05 of 06

Ask everyone to take proper precautions for at least two weeks before Thanksgiving.

Ask invited guests to lower their risk well before Thanksgiving Day: "If possible, it would be a good idea for family members to self-isolate as much as possible the weeks before everyone is together," Seymour says. (In case you missed it, yes, it's A-OK to ask your guests to quarantine before holiday gatherings.)

You can also ask invitees to be tested for the virus several days before the gathering. A negative result doesn't guarantee that a guest will be virus free when the event rolls around, but with self-isolation it suggests a much lower likelihood.

06 of 06

Practice good hygiene during the celebration.

What mom has been saying since we were children remains true: Wash your hands early and often. Do so for at least 20 seconds with soap and water, Kesh says, and don't share food, drinks, utensils, or other serviceware. If you're around anyone who doesn't live in your household, wear a face mask when you're not eating or drinking.

Some other basic tips and strategies Kesh plans to adopt with her own family for Thanksgiving this year:

  • Host a small group in a large, open space
  • Request that face masks stay on when food and drink aren't being consumed
  • Open windows throughout the home for greater ventilation
  • Use disposable tablecloths and serviceware to make kitchen clean-up easier and to allow for surfaces to be disinfected sooner after the meal.

"Every intervention you put in place will increase your ability to host a safer Thanksgiving dinner, although of course there is never zero risk," Kesh says.

"The last thing you want is to bring a virus to dinner," Seymour says. So when in doubt, Zoom it out.

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