Thanksgiving Will Be Different This Year. What Will You Be Missing?

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This Oct. 12, 2015, photo shows a roasted Thanksgiving turkey in Concord, N.H. (Matthew Mead/AP)
This Oct. 12, 2015, photo shows a roasted Thanksgiving turkey in Concord, N.H. (Matthew Mead/AP)

Thanksgiving is going to have to look different this year.

Governor Baker is now asking people to gather just with our immediate households, which means a lot of people are canceling plans, staying home.

We take calls on how our listeners' plans have turned out: What sacrifices will you be making this Thanksgiving? What traditions will you miss, and what will you be happy to skip this year?

We speak with Dr. Cassandra Pierre, infectious disease physician and Assistant Professor of Medicine at the Boston University School of Medicine. She is also the Medical Director of Public Health Programs and the Associate Hospital Epidemiologist at Boston Medical Center, and Beth Teitell, a Boston Globe reporter.

Interview Highlights

On the CDC guidance and any other official guidance around Thanksgiving this year: 

Dr. Cassandra Pierre: "I will say that the guidance in general for any in-person gathering indoors has been to keep it at 10 people or less. With a rising rates of COVID-19 across the country, many leaders, including Anthony Fauci, have tried to lead by example by saying that they are not going to be having their own Thanksgiving dinner, including with their adult children. And so they're looking for different ways, as you mentioned, to find joy. The line from public health officials and infectious disease doctors and medical establishment alike has been to, whenever possible, enjoy Thanksgiving within your own bubble and preserve as many future Thanksgivings down the line to be healthy as they can be."

On traditional Thanksgivings vs. this year's Thanksgiving:

Beth Teitell: "One thing I was struck by is Thanksgiving has always been a holiday that's about a number. People say, 'How many people are you having?' And the answer is always, 'We're having 15.' And that was who was coming, and you would tell my grandmother, my brother from California, this person. This year, it's also about a number, but the number tells a different story. It's a sad one. It's who's not coming. 'Well, we're only going to be four because my Aunt Donna is not going to pick up my grandmother on the Cape. This isn't going to happen, this isn't going to happen.'

I guess will make us really appreciate next year's Thanksgiving since Thanksgiving has been a holiday that is it was sort of two parallel stories. There was, 'Oh, we love being with family.' And then there was 'Thanks-pocalypse.' Like people were so afraid of Thanksgiving. All the stories about the stress of dealing with your toxic family. But now people are missing that. Like I myself am always stressed when I have to cook a turkey, but now I'm kind of missing that stress."

On college students returning home, post-COVID-19 tests:

Dr. Cassandra Pierre: "[A negative test result] may be a false sense of assurance. It is certainly good to go ahead and get the test before leaving to know about your risk. But within 72 hours leaves a lot of time. People might decide to go to a party right before they leave. And even if they are truly negative when they leave, the act of traveling itself implies some risk and exposure to infection on the way there, especially with close ... public and non-public modes of transportation."

"We actually have seen a case here where a daughter returning from college was negative prior to leaving, you know, linked up with a person who was not from her social group before going home after her test, and did not quarantine when she came home, and unfortunately exposed an infected her mother. So I do think that even though the testing is important, I would recommend that if possible, those students also get tests after returning home and maybe even quarantine for a few days, which seems so unnatural, but does increase the safety of their return."

On whether or not people should visit different households for the holiday:

Dr. Cassandra Pierre: "I would say that you would honestly need to assess your own risk tolerance. Obviously, the only way to completely remain safe is to remain completely isolated. And also, if there's anyone in that group that's elderly, immunosuppressed or has a serious underlying medical condition, then you need to weigh the risks of having a holiday celebration against that benefit. So if that doesn't apply to you, then you need to ensure that everyone is committed equally to infection prevention recommendations. And I say this because the other part of my job in public health is about harm reduction. So we know that people will do things that are not necessarily what the a guidance is. But I want to make sure that if they do, they have the things at their disposal that will allow them to reduce risk of exposure and infection."

"So quarantining as much as possible, staying home if you can, and working from home for as long as you can — ideally 14 days, but obviously we're less than that out now, so as much time as you can — not going out with people outside of your bubble, and also trying to be aware of the other things that cause you risk without you being aware of it. For example, being in a poorly ventilated space for long periods of time. So I'm thinking about, unfortunately, in places like the gym and indoor restaurants, limiting your exposure to those as well."

"I would say that you would honestly need to assess your own risk tolerance. Obviously, the only way to completely remain safe is to remain completely isolated."

Dr. Cassandra Pierre

"The testing was mentioned. I think that's great. But as we mentioned...before, one test might not be sufficient and may lead you to have a false sense of security. I would actually recommend kind of stacking testing if you have the option to do so, getting tested maybe now and then again a day or two before for better potential reliability and more assurance that you may be actually negative. [The caller has] already limited the guest list. So kudos on that, that's great. Try to ventilate, if possible, with the windows, maybe put it in air purifier if it's unseasonably warm, which I don't think is in the forecast. But if it is, think about having as much as the celebration, especially the eating component outside, if you can."

This segment aired on November 18, 2020.


Zoë Mitchell Producer and Studio Director
Zoë Mitchell was a Radio Boston producer and studio director.


Tiziana Dearing Host, Radio Boston
Tiziana Dearing is the host of Radio Boston.



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