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Thanksgiving Will Be Different. Here Are Some Ways To Minimize Risk And Celebrate

The nation's top public health agency is pleading with Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving, or to spend the holiday with people with whom they are not currently living. (Rick Bowmer/AP)
The nation's top public health agency is pleading with Americans not to travel for Thanksgiving, or to spend the holiday with people with whom they are not currently living. (Rick Bowmer/AP)

Everything is different since the pandemic began its spread across the U.S., and Thanksgiving will be no exception.

For the last several weeks, public health experts and officials have said — and they can't stress this enough — that if Americans celebrate Thanksgiving as usual, there's going to be a huge uptick in cases by mid-December. On Thursday, the CDC joined the conversation, warning against traveling for the holiday.

A house full of people of all different ages who don’t live together, sharing food, hugging and talking could have disastrous results. Here are some safety tips and suggestions for the various types of holiday celebrations you're planning for Thursday:

The safest thing to do is stay home and only celebrate with the people you already live with.

Gov. Charlie Baker, during his coronavirus updates, has said repeatedly that Bay Staters shouldn't travel or mix households when celebrating Thanksgiving.

"We're living in a pandemic. I know some people would prefer to think otherwise, but it's true, and it's real and it's all over the country," he said last week.

If you plan to travel out of state, AAA has a live map of travel restrictions from state to state and city to city.

Chief among Baker's concerns are college students, who may leave campus, head home for the holiday and then return to campus. On Wednesday, he reminded people of the state's travel order: anyone who wants to enter or return to Massachusetts (whether you take a train, plane or drive) must either have a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours before arriving, or quarantine for two weeks.

Are any locations exempt from this? It's relatively easy to remember since the list of low-risk states is now a short one: Hawaii and Vermont — though this could change by Thanksgiving. (Editor's Note: We updated this post Friday afternoon when more states were eliminated from the list.)

And when it comes to the great college student migration home for the holidays, Baker and Boston Mayor Marty Walsh said they'd prefer if colleges would let students remain remote for the rest of the year if they travel home for Thanksgiving.

Baker and Walsh are not alone in calling for people to stay home this year. Columnist Megan McArdle writes in The Washington Post that when it comes to Thanksgiving this year, we'll just have to skip it. It's the safest thing to do.

“The turkey will still taste good in a few months, when everyone is vaccinated — and next year’s turkey will taste a lot better if everyone’s still around to eat it," she writes.

If you still plan to get together with others, there are precautions you can take to reduce — but not eliminate — the risk of spreading or contracting COVID-19.

The Massachusetts Department of Public Health has some some guidelines on what you can do for what they call "higher-risk celebrations."

The most important takeaways from the guidelines:

  • Wear a mask when not eating or drinking.
  • Wash your hands with soap and water.
  • Don't share food, drinks or utensils.
  • Wear a mask when preparing or serving food to people not in your household.
  • Avoid self-serve options like buffets.
  • Sit outside if you can, but if not, open all the windows and doors to improve ventilation.

Walsh also said earlier this week that if police are called to a residence on Thanksgiving day, and there are too many people there, they could issue a fine.

Instead of gathering in person, you could gather virtually.

To be clear, this is the safest way to see your friends and family for the holidays this year. While it's different than the Thanksgiving plans people may be used to, there are certainly ways to get festive. Here are a few suggestions from the WBUR newsroom:

  • Set up a family Zoom. Zoom has lifted its 40-minute limit for free meetings on the holiday, meaning you can spend all day with your family even if you're miles apart. But like anything with technology, it's good to have a set plan on when you're going to meet and what you're going to do. Most importantly, plan on what you'll do if there's a tech glitch, especially for your family members who aren't as familiar with the platform. You can get more tips on how to make the most of your virtual Thanksgiving here, via USA Today.
  • Get crafty. Good Housekeeping created a list of 42 easy Thanksgiving crafts that toddlers and school kids can handle. Pick a craft with the family and make sure each household has the right supplies. Then fire up Zoom so you can craft together, even if you're apart. You could also play an episode of WBUR's Circle Round podcast. Hit the play button at the same time and have the kids take on the corresponding coloring sheet. Try "The Fire On The Other Side Of The World," based on a tale from the Cherokee people, or "The Chattering Clams," based on a Native American legend from the area we now know as Washington state.
  • Change up the menu. You can still make your favorite holiday dish, but this year may also be the time to try out that recipe you've always wanted, or to mix things up entirely. (Dumplings on Thanksgiving? Why not!) Here & Now resident chef Kathy Gunst has some tips for creating a special, but scaled-down menu. If you're experiencing cooking fatigue and not interested in spending the day in the kitchen, Eater Boston has put together this guide of Boston-area takeout options for Thanksgiving day.
  • Run a virtual Turkey Trot. If you're one of those people who like to get in some miles before your marathon of feasting, there are some virtual races to keep the tradition alive.

This article was originally published on November 20, 2020.

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Meghan B. Kelly Twitter Multi-platform Editor
Meghan is the multi-platform editor for WBUR.

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