12 Questions To Ask Yourself Before Attending In-Person Thanksgiving

If you're still not planning to stay home for the holiday, consider the facts of your situation.
There are many important health and safety considerations for Thanksgiving 2020.
Photographer, Basak Gurbuz Derman via Getty Images
There are many important health and safety considerations for Thanksgiving 2020.

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It’s clear Thanksgiving 2020 will be like no other. (We hope, anyway.)

With the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention imploring Americans to avoid gathering with people from outside their households, families are planning scaled-back meals and virtual celebrations. But not everyone is adjusting their plans.

If you’re still not sold on staying home this Thanksgiving, consider the facts of your situation and the world around you. Here are 12 questions to ask yourself before attending an in-person Thanksgiving gathering.

Are you at high risk of getting severely sick from COVID-19?

People who are at increased risk of severe illness from the coronavirus include older adults and those with underlying medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), cancer, chronic kidney disease and more.

Are any other attendees at high risk of severe illness?

“Prior to visiting loved ones, it’s a good idea to have everyone check with a
physician on their risk status for severe disease if they contract COVID-19,” Dr. Linda Anegawa, a physician with virtual health platform PlushCare, told HuffPost. “Individuals who are high risk for complications are safest avoiding family gatherings altogether.”

Will you have to travel to attend the celebration?

Public health experts advise against unnecessary travel during the pandemic — particularly now, as case counts continue to skyrocket.

“Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19,” the CDC website notes. “Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”

What means of transit will you use?

If you have to travel for Thanksgiving, are you going by plane, train or bus, all of which make social distancing nearly impossible?

“Traveling by car is probably safer than an airplane, given the exposure to far fewer people,” said Anegawa. “When traveling by car, be sure to have hand sanitizer, paper towels, and sanitizing wipes available (in case you need to make any bathroom pit stops along the way). Supplying your own snacks and drinks can also help to minimize stops in unfamiliar locations.”

If you travel by plane, try to go at off-peak times and days, practice social distancing at the airport and when boarding, wipe down your seat area and always wear your mask. Anegawa suggested a face shield in addition to a mask for extra protection as well.

How many COVID-19 cases are there in your current location?

Consider the coronavirus situation in your community. Are cases high or increasing? You can look up the specifics at the Johns Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, which includes a U.S. map tracking COVID-19 cases by county. The CDC also has a COVID-19 data tracker.

What’s the case rate at your destination?

Do the same research for the location of your Thanksgiving destination to see how many cases have been reported and if that number is rising. If cases are high or increasing, that’s all the more reason to avoid going there.

Look up the hospital situation in your current location and potential Thanksgiving destination as well. Many communities are nearing full hospital bed capacity. Consult local public health websites for more information.

Are there restrictions for travelers at your destination?

Most places have implemented restrictions and requirements for incoming travelers amid the pandemic. The CDC’s travel planner tool has information about state and local regulations about quarantines, test requirements and other restrictions. You can also go to the state or county’s public health website and check local news sources.

Travel restrictions also generally apply upon your return from out of state, so it’s best to look up the rules in your own community, as well.

Public health experts advise against gathering indoors with people you don't live with.
PeopleImages via Getty Images
Public health experts advise against gathering indoors with people you don't live with.

Will the gathering take place inside or outside?

“According to CDC guidance, for those who chose to gather, try having your meal outside and socially distanced from one another,” Anegawa advised. “You can also consider bringing your own food, so it is easy to maintain that distance.”

She also emphasized the importance of wearing masks when not eating or drinking and disinfecting hands and surfaces throughout the gathering to help mitigate the risk of spreading the virus.

How many people outside your household will you be seeing?

Many states and cities have implemented restrictions on gathering sizes, but the main goal right now is to keep contacts with people outside your household to a minimum.

If the plan is to see people you don’t live with on Thanksgiving, make sure everyone present understands the risks involved with gathering.

Is everyone getting tested and quarantining beforehand?

An important way to minimize risk before you gather with others is to quarantine for 14 days before your visit and ensure that you and those in your household don’t have close contact with others.

“It may be a good idea to have friends and family obtain a COVID-19 test prior to a Thanksgiving gathering,” Anegawa said. “Any positive test would mean a 14-day quarantine period away from others, and enjoying the festivities over Zoom instead. However, a negative test can often give a false sense of security, as up to 30% of tests are false negatives.”

Getting a negative COVID-19 test before Thanksgiving is not enough to ensure you won’t spread or contract the virus, so it’s safest to commit to a strict quarantine as well. It’s also important to continue to practice social distancing measures, even if you are negative, for the safety of all those around you.

Will this gathering be good for your mental health?

If you’re under pressure from loved ones to attend a Thanksgiving gathering, consider if relenting would be good for your mental health. Is one meal worth the fear or guilt of contracting the virus or potentially putting others at risk?

For many, this holiday may bring up uncomfortable conversations ― and even fights ― over pandemic safety, as well as longstanding political disagreements or family trauma. Perhaps 2020 is a good opportunity to set some boundaries.

What alternatives to a traditional Thanksgiving gathering are at your disposal?

Lots of people genuinely want to gather with family or friends for a traditional Thanksgiving meal. This is particularly true for those who have felt isolated in the age of social distancing.

“For those who might choose not to do a social gathering this year, there are
other great ways to find connection this holiday,” said Anegawa.

She suggested having a Zoom holiday meal with your loved ones or hosting a virtual watch party for a favorite holiday movie.

“Spend time outdoors if you feel lonely and pent-up. Even a 15-minute walk around the neighborhood can make you feel more connected and help you release stressful emotions,” she suggested. “Or try a new hobby for the holiday. You can learn how to knit on YouTube, bake a treat, or try out a virtual yoga class.”

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