Illustration of Turkey with face mask

November CONSULT

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Could Thanksgiving gatherings be safe? Consider these tips

Published on Sunday, November 1, 2020

By: Ruth Cummins

In Mississippi and nationwide, one of the main drivers of COVID-19 transmission is small gatherings of friends or family.

How, then, can you safely enjoy Thanksgiving turkey and trimmings with the nuclear family in your home if you invite friends and relatives who live somewhere else?

There will be risks, but there are steps you can take to lessen the virus’ danger to yourself and others, a University of Mississippi Medical Center infectious diseases specialist has said.

Portrait of Dr Bhagyashri Navalkele

“We know that there is high transmission, and traveling is considered high risk for exposure, even if you are trying to do your best by wearing a mask and social distancing,” said Dr. Bhagyashri Navalkele, UMMC assistant professor of infectious diseases and medical director of infection prevention and control. “The best solution is to avoid family gatherings with anyone except those living in your household.

“But people are going to invite people over and travel. Even if it’s your neighbor or a close family member, there is still a risk.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is advising Americans about low, moderate and high risks for celebrating Thanksgiving. Low-risk activities, for example, include having a small dinner with only the people in your household, having a virtual Thanksgiving dinner with friends or family, shopping online instead of in person at post-Thanksgiving Day sales and watching sports events, parades and movies from home.

Moderately risky activities include having a small indoor or outdoor dinner with friends and family who live in your community, following CDC recommendations on hosting gatherings or cookouts and attending small outdoor sports events with safety precautions in place.

High risk activities include attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside your household, shopping in person in crowded stores and attending crowded sporting events or parades.

Navalkele’s tips for lessening the chances of transmission:

  • Encourage elderly people or those with medical conditions not to travel to your home. Explain the risks, including the chance of hospitalization and the need for oxygen therapy if they contract the virus.
    “If they stay home, don’t let them get exposed from those who may be traveling to them from the outside,” Navalkele said. “If you want to see your grandma or grandpa next Thanksgiving, protect them this Thanksgiving as much as possible. Advise your family and friends to monitor their symptoms, and if they have any at all, advise them to stay isolated at home and not attend your gathering.”
  • If you do have guests coming in from outside your household, advise them to quarantine for 14 days before traveling.

    “Tell them not to go to bars, restaurants or public events 14 days prior to a family gathering,” she said. “That way, they can limit their exposure and lower the risk that they will bring the virus with them.”
  • Ask visitors to get a COVID-19 test 48 hours before their arrival.

    “That doesn’t mean that they can’t test positive tomorrow, but it gives you a little bit of a better bubble. That way, if they also quarantine, they have done everything they can to follow all precautions.”
  • Ask guests if they’ve gotten their flu shot, and if they haven’t, encourage them to do so before visiting your home.
  • When deciding on the number of guests you will have, “there’s no magic number, but less is better,” Navalkele said.

    Plan in terms of having adequate social distancing – 6 feet – between guests, and move the celebration outdoors, if possible.

    “If you must be inside, keep doors and windows open so that there can be good ventilation. Definitely ask people not to stand in groups, sing or do any other activities that would generate aerosol droplets.

    “Mask wearing is good, but when you eat, the masks come off. That makes ventilation and distancing so important.”
  • Thoroughly disinfect your home before and after hosting guests. Make sure guests have easy access to hand sanitizer and masks and access to a sink for washing their hands.
  • When serving a Thanksgiving meal, don’t allow people to fill their plates buffet-style.

    “Everyone serving themselves is increasing the risk,” Navalkele said. “That’s a lot of people touching utensils, and the virus can be spread by contact.”

    Instead, dedicate one or two people to do the serving, and “sanitize your hands before touching or serving anything.”
  • Finally, consider keeping the Thanksgiving celebration to the nuclear family living in your home and Zoom or FaceTime with friends and relatives as everyone gathers for their meal.

    “You can all enjoy dinner together in a way that does not increase your risk.”


The above article appears in CONSULT, UMMC’s monthly e-newsletter sharing news about cutting-edge clinical and health science education advances and innovative biomedical research at the Medical Center and giving you tips and suggestions on how you and the people you love can live a healthier life. Click here and enter your email address to receive CONSULT free of charge. You may cancel at any time.