How to have a safe Thanksgiving


“Gathering ‘as usual’ for Thanksgiving traditions could be especially dangerous this year as this type of event has the potential to transmit COVID,” said Ellen Eaton, assistant professor in the University of Alabama at Birmingham Division of Infectious Diseases. “Unfortunately, most Thanksgiving activities like eating and talking are usually done indoors and without masks. They are a perfect environment to spread COVID-19 across multiple attendees.”

Knowing that COVID-19 spreads through the air and in close-contact situations, usually indoors, how can people safety congregate and spend time with one another on the third Thursday in November? Can you share meals? What about eating indoors? Enjoying tradition can still be achievable — albeit different — according to experts from UAB and the Centers for Disease Control.

Safe practices for Thanksgiving 2020

This Thanksgiving, experts urge it is critical to:

“If you or your loved ones fall into high-risk groups, help stay connected by incorporating remote or virtual elements into your celebrations, or even nontraditional activities for the day,” said Bertha Hidalgo, associate professor in the UAB School of Public Health.

This could include having Zoom or FaceTime dinners or planning outdoor activities with loved ones that do not revolve around eating and situations where masks may be removed.

Hidalgo encourages folks to consider factors like these when planning for the Thanksgiving holiday:

Shared meals are discouraged, but you can consider having others bring their own snack and beverage for individual consumption. If a family chooses to move forward with a traditional seated and food-centered gathering, experts recommend the following tips be strongly considered:

“When eating or drinking together, masks obviously have to come off. For this reason, you may want to skip the meal entirely. But if you are planning a meal with guests from outside your household, replace masks with physical distancing while you eat,” Hidalgo said.

Having a gathering indoors is highly discouraged this year; but if indoor seating is the only option, following these guidelines will help:

High-risk activities:

“Using creative activities outdoors, we can dramatically reduce the risk of transmission,” Eaton said. “This year, we are going to be creative to support one another over the holidays without getting our loved ones ill or worse.”

Alternative activities:

The need for smaller, more intimate gatherings will not last forever. And, it can allow us to connect in a more intimate way with a smaller group, experts say. So rather than dinner indoors with your five grown children and their families, it is much safer to gather with one family at a time, outdoors, perhaps over a cup of coffee or hot chocolate and s’mores over a fire pit.  

Eaton reassures us that we will get beyond this chapter, and there will be time to reunite with our loved ones to share long, leisurely holiday traditions again. 

“We will do Thanksgiving again and resume the traditions that make up the framework of our families,” she said. “But it won’t be in 2020, and it shouldn’t be. Let’s work to keep those whom we love and cherish the most safe this season.”