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The Thanksgiving holiday is normally an exciting opportunity to gather with family and reconnect with friends we have not seen in a while. However, this year, due to the ongoing coronavirus pandemic, the impending holiday season is more stress inducing than it is exciting. This year, a typical Thanksgiving gathering—one that is indoors, lacks personal space, and does not have a mask in sight—is the perfect recipe for spreading COVID-19.

Chief Quality Officer for Summit Health Dr. Ashish Parikh understands that dealing with coronavirus stressors, ever-changing guidelines, and sacrificing time with those closest to us has been and will continue to be hard. With cases on the rise, the upcoming holiday gatherings concern him. But while we can’t completely eliminate the risk, he reminds us that there are things we can do to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Skip the gathering.

The safest thing to do is skip the Thanksgiving gathering altogether, and instead, consider other options.

  • Thanksgiving in May. Consider pushing your family gathering six months down the road. The weather will be better, and hopefully, so will the pandemic.
  • Keep it in the family.  Enjoy dinner with just your household members. Others can celebrate with you virtually.
  • Skip the family football game. Contact sports outside of carefully monitored and approved leagues, should be avoided. Partake in a game of virtual charades instead. Best turkey imitation wins!


It is critically important that you stay home if you are feeling sick or experiencing symptoms, if you have knowingly encountered someone who has tested positive for COVID-19, or if you are older or immunocompromised.

Tailor your gathering.

Limiting your celebration to those who live within your household is best, but if you must meet up with others, consider the size of the gathering. Even small gatherings have been contributing to the growing number of cases. So keep your group as small as possible and try to:

  • Enjoy the crisp autumn air. Socialize outdoors when possible. Indoor gatherings pose a greater risk than outdoor gatherings. If you are outside, you should still wear a mask and maintain proper social distancing. And always avoid touching your face mask, eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Skip the food and drink. Save these things for later when you are with your regular household members.

If you absolutely must have Thanksgiving with non-household members:

  • Forks down and masks up. Keep your distance and keep your masks on when you are together.
  • Ventilate! Make sure windows are open for optimal ventilation.
  • Shift things up. Consider eating in shifts so only household members are without masks at the same time. Others should remain masked and in a separate room if possible.
  • Wash your hands. Wash your hands before and after eating.


Avoid Public Transportation and Air Travel.

Thanksgiving is normally a time where families travel to be together, but traveling, whether by air or by bus, only increases your chances of contracting and/or spreading coronavirus and even the flu. Staying home is optimal, but if you must travel, driving is the best option. Just be sure to follow individual state guidelines and maintain standard safety precautions such as wearing a mask, washing your hands, and practicing social distancing.

Summit Health’s Director of Infection Prevention, Dr. Daniel Hart’s largest concern as we approach the holidays is the onset of COVID fatigue, a sense of exhaustion induced by the ongoing challenges presented by the pandemic. “With that fatigue comes participation in risky behavior and defiance of guidelines,” says Dr. Hart. “But with a surge in coronavirus cases and several community spikes, now is not the time to drop our guard. It’s time to dig deep and use all the knowledge and information we’ve gathered to this point to protect ourselves and those around us against this second wave.”

Some additional things to remember:

  • Get the flu vaccine. With flu and COVID-19 circulating simultaneously, the health care system could become overwhelmed fast. Plus, you don’t want to experience the flu and COVID-19 at the same time. To protect yourself and others, get the flu shot as soon as possible!
  • Be wary of a false negative COVID-19 test result. While a negative COVID-19 test result is reassuring, it does not eliminate risk. You can become positive for the virus up to two weeks after exposure.
  • Use basic preventive techniques. Wearing masks, washing hands consistently and carefully, and maintaining a distance of six feet from each other are all methods proven to slow the spread of COVID-19.
  • Have compassion. For many people, COVID-19 causes only mild or moderate symptoms, but for others, those with pre-existing health conditions and older adults, it can cause severe illness and even death. Even if you are not afraid of contracting the disease, do your part to protect those who may suffer greatly. Your small sacrifice can make all the difference.


Although it may not feel good to say no, now is not the time to take a risk. Remember, the safest choice is to stay home. This Thanksgiving can still be one to remember. You’ll just need to cook up a plan to stay safe.  

For more tips and tricks on ways to stay safe during the holidays, visit the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention website.