This Thanksgiving, recommendations for celebrating safely depend on a lot of factors, including where you are, the rates of transmission in that area, and who you plan to be with. Here are my top nine tips for a healthy and happy holiday celebration.
- Get vaccinated, if you’re eligible. If you get vaccinated with a Johnson & Johnson vaccine today, you would be fully vaccinated in time for Thanksgiving. If you got Pfizer or Moderna, you could look forward to safe and fun winter holiday gatherings.
- Ask your guests whether they are vaccinated and adapt as necessary. While it may be a difficult question, it is an important one. Note that it is very difficult to wear masks properly and consistently throughout a party. Even the most conscientious people can slip up. You may opt not to invite unvaccinated people, instead.
- If you have symptoms, don’t host or attend any gatherings. Canceling your party or your attendance at a party is the most thoughtful and considerate thing you could do. Don’t risk spreading COVID (or anything else) to your friends or loved ones.
- Take geographic considerations into account. In areas of substantial or high transmission—which includes the entire United States, at the moment—you might want to skip the big Thanksgiving celebration this year. A nice quiet Thanksgiving at home or a virtual get-together may be preferable. Even those who are fully vaccinated should wear a mask when indoors in communities with substantial to high transmission.
- If you are celebrating indoors with people who are not fully vaccinated (including children) or those who are vaccinated but immune compromised, everyone over the age of 2 should wear a well-fitting mask over their mouth and nose while indoors. Try to provide adequate distance and good ventilation during the mealtime, when masks cannot be worn.
- Use outdoor visits as a safer alternative. So many innovative hosts have made wonderful celebrations outdoors throughout the pandemic, even in our brisk November weather. Your gathering might be shorter, but it could still be safe and worthwhile.
- Use testing in advance for added assurance. If you and your family got a negative test a few days before the gathering and quarantined until the celebration, you could be reasonably well assured that you were not bringing COVID with you.
- Only if transmission rates are moderate or low and if the entire group is fully vaccinated, healthy, and have no immune-compromising conditions, is it safe to have a good old-fashioned Thanksgiving. No masks, distancing, or outdoor celebrations are needed. While it is possible that someone could get COVID from the gathering, it will most likely be a mild case and minimally disruptive.
- Travel is recommended for fully vaccinated people only and only to areas of low – moderate transmission. Traveling with your family by car is safer than using public transportation. Masks are required for everyone on public transportation. Avoid crowds, and wash and sanitize hands frequently.
- If you have any doubts about the safety of your gathering, test 3 – 7 days afterwards. Also get tested if you have symptoms of COVID or have had close contact with someone who tests positive.
No matter how you celebrate Thanksgiving this year, I hope you are able to embrace the thankful spirit of the day and enjoy a good meal surrounded (virtually or in person) with the people you love.
Donna Barron, RN, is the infection preventionist at Southwestern Vermont Medical Center in Bennington.