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Gathering Safely: Recommendations for Celebrating Thanksgiving

Gathering Safely: Recommendations for Celebrating Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is an annual U.S. tradition bringing memories of traveling, family gatherings, food, sports, and parades. In the age of the COVID-19 pandemic, you may have several questions about how to safely gather to celebrate with loved ones.

In the weeks leading up to Thanksgiving, COVID-19 cases have rapidly increased across our community and the U.S. The Centers for Disease Control (CDC) has released an updated series of guidelines and recommendations for the holiday.


Lower Risk Activities:

  • Having a small dinner with only people who live in your household
  • Preparing traditional family recipes for family and neighbors, especially those at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, and delivering them in a way that doesn’t involve contact with others.
  • Hosting a virtual dinner and sharing recipes with friends and family.
  • Shopping online rather than in person during the days following Thanksgiving.
  • Watching sports events, parades, and movies from home.

Moderate Risk Activities:

  • Having a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community. Check out the CDC’s recommendations on hosting gatherings or cook-outs.
  • Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced, and people are able to maintain social distancing.
  • Attending small outdoor sports events with safety precautions in place.

Higher Risk Activities:

Avoid these higher-risk activities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19:

  • Going shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving.
  • Participating or being a spectator at a crowded race.
  • Attending crowded parties.
  • Using alcohol or drugs, which can cloud judgment and increase risky behaviors.
  • Attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household.

If you are hosting or attending a small gathering, several factors can contribute to your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.

  • Community levels of COVID-19 – High or increasing levels of COVID-19 cases in the gathering location, as well as in the areas where attendees are coming from, increase the risk of infection and spread among attendees.
  • Duration of the gathering – Gatherings that last longer pose more risk than shorter gatherings. Being within 6 feet of someone who has COVID-19 for a cumulative total of 15 minutes or more greatly increases the risk of becoming sick and requires a 14-day quarantine.
  • Number and crowding of people at the gathering – Gatherings with more people pose more risk than gatherings with fewer people. CDC does not have a limit or recommend a specific number of attendees for gatherings. The size of a holiday gathering should be determined based on the ability of attendees from different households to stay 6 feet (2 arm lengths) apart, wear masks, wash hands, and follow state, local, territorial, or tribal health and safety laws, rules, and regulations.
  • Behaviors of attendees prior to the gathering – Individuals who did not consistently adhere to social distancing (staying at least 6 feet apart), mask-wearing, handwashing, and other prevention behaviors pose more risk than those who consistently practiced these safety measures.
  • Behaviors of attendees during the gathering – Gatherings with more safety measures in place, such as mask-wearing, social distancing, and handwashing, pose less risk than gatherings where fewer or no preventive measures are being implemented.

Food Safety

Turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, casseroles, and delicious desserts like pumpkin pie are staples of Thanksgiving dinner. According to the CDC, there is no evidence to suggest that handling or consuming food is associated with COVID-19 transmission. However, the agency has put together a list of recommendations for food safety.


Hitting the roads or flying for family gatherings may look a little different this year. The CDC recommends several steps while deciding if you should make the trip this year.

Before you travel, consider the rate of COVID-19 spread at your destination. The more cases at your destination, the more likely you are to get infected during travel and spread the virus.

During Travel

  • Wear a mask to keep your nose and mouth covered when in public settings, including public transportation, airports, and stations.
  • Avoid close contact by staying at least six feet apart from anyone who is not in your household.
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).
  • Avoid contact with anyone who is sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.

Click here for more CDC recommendations on air, bus, train, and RV travel.

The holidays can be a particularly stressful time. For tips on coping with stress in a healthy way, click here. Check our blog in December for a story on mental health during the winter holidays with advice and resources Valley Health’s Behavioral Health Services!