I love Thanksgiving. It’s a time to be with those you love, eating fabulous food and sharing memories. In my family, my mother always made the holiday a time when we welcomed people into our home who had nowhere else to go that day. And then we’d take long afternoon walks after our big meal.
With COVID-19 infections rising to record levels across the U.S, families are changing how they celebrate Thanksgiving this year. Like much else in 2020, we’ll need to develop new and creative traditions to replace the ones that put those we love at risk for COVID.
This year, please follow the tips from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and avoid large family gatherings.
This disease is highly contagious and getting together physically with extended family is a real risk. Every event that brings people together creates yet another chance for transmission. I’m often asked, “Can’t I just get a COVID test and then see my family?” Unfortunately, the answer I give my friends and family is an unequivocal “No.” Tests are often negative early in the course of disease, which means you can test negative today but be highly infectious tomorrow. So even if you have a negative test, still practice these measures. The best way to show your love is to not have a big family gathering.
There are many ways to celebrate from a distance. You can video call friends and family from the Thanksgiving table. You could spend in-person time outdoors at a distance, wearing masks and avoiding shared dishes. I have even heard of some families even getting creative offering “curbside pickup” of their signature pumpkin pie, green bean casserole or oyster dressing for loved ones to pick up and enjoy in the safety of their own homes.
Tips for celebrating Thanksgiving safely
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have shared some tips on how you could celebrate Thanksgiving this year and limit the spread of COVID-19:
Wear a mask
Keep gatherings small
Celebrate virtually if you can
This year, my immediate family is planning a small meal with just our household followed by a brief, outdoor visit with our grandmother. We will also have a virtual Friendsgiving with friends across the country, which is actually allowing us to share memories with more people than we usually do. I will miss the meals, hugs and in-person laughter, but am willing to sacrifice that for this one year so we can have many more memories together in years to come.
Though this has been a difficult year for so many around the world, I find I have much to be grateful for this holiday. I am thankful for my medical colleagues—the doctors, nurses, respiratory techs and other responders who are going to work on Thanksgiving to care for COVID-19 patients. I am thankful for my public health colleagues who have worked tirelessly for nearly a year to keep us safe, as they do even when pandemics aren’t raging.
I am thankful for the many unsung first responders working to see that we have safe water to drink, food to eat and electricity to light and heat our homes. I am particularly thankful for the committed scientists who have advanced sound research so we have efficacious and safe treatments, and yes, COVID vaccines in sight. They are giving us so much optimism about the potential for robust countermeasures to bring this pandemic to an end.
And I am thankful for everyone who is putting the public’s health as a priority, and doing all they can to not be a link in the chain of COVID transmission. I know everyone is weary and wants to go back to normal, or at least a new normal. But I encourage everyone to be patient and dig deep inside for the stamina to carry us through these next few months. Now is not the time to let up—it is a time to double down. If scientific progress continues, then by this time next year we might be able to have family gatherings with those we love.
This Thanksgiving, I see staying home as the ultimate form of giving thanks and showing love to your family.