This past week the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its guidance against traveling and gathering during Thanksgiving — notoriously the busiest travel period of the year. But despite the health officials urging Americans against gathering for Thanksgiving, many people are suffering from pandemic fatigue and plan to spend the holiday together anyway. Here are my top six tips if you plan to gather but want to do it as safely as possible.

Tip #1: Clear the Air

Ironically, even though we’ve been told to isolate in our homes during the lockdowns, transmission is more likely to occur indoors in our homes than outdoors. Most homes don’t have sophisticated air filtration systems in their homes and often times, stale air and virus aerosols linger and accumulate in the home. In some hospitals and planes, ventilation systems change the air as much as 12 times an hour.

During the summer, many people keep their windows shut tight with the air conditioning on; and during the fall and winter, keep their windows shut tight with the heater on. If there’s an air quality advisory, windows and doors stay closed. One reason why people get sicker more often in the winter is because they spend more time in their homes.

Before and after Thanksgiving, air out your house.* Open multiple windows (the wider the better) and in every room if possible. If weather permits, keep windows open during the gathering too. Depending on the temperature and wind effects, opening windows can change the air one to three times an hour.

Turn on exhaust fans in the kitchen and bathrooms too.

NOTE: In general, open doors and windows during the day as frequently as possible to not only reduce viruses, but other indoor air pollutants (e.g., chemical cleaners, nail polish, formaldehyde from furniture, clothing, and carpeting) as well.

Tip #2: Reduce Your Contacts 

At least a week (preferably two weeks) before Thanksgiving, be vigilant about reducing your contacts and potential exposures.

NOTE: If possible, get tested for the coronavirus. Time it so that you get the results before Thanksgiving, and during that waiting period, be conscious of reducing your contacts.

Tip #3: Wash Your Hands Often

This habit may fall by the wayside during the excitement of the festivities. But wash your hands constantly — especially since food is being prepared, handled, and eaten. Keep bottles of hand sanitizer on the table, coffee table, and counter as a reminder. Place disposable paper towels in the bathroom for drying hands instead of sharing the same hand towel.

Tip #4: Don’t Wear a Mask Between Bites 

The problem with wearing a mask is that it is often handled to adjust for comfort and fit. If the mask is contaminated, then the hands are too. To properly remove a mask, your hands should be clean; and when you put it back on, your hands should be clean.

Taking a mask on and off between bites just promotes more handling of the mask when you’re handling food. Also, when taking the mask off, it ends up on the table or the napkin on your lap. Then the napkin becomes contaminated, and the napkin ends up wiping your mouth.

Tip #5: Move the Dinner Outdoors

If weather permits, set up a holiday celebration outdoors on a patio or porch with space heaters, fire pits, canopy or tent, and outdoor landscape lighting (e.g., string lights, candles).

Consider a partially open space, like a screened-in porch.

Tip #6: Gather Virtually

  • After the CDC updated its guidance on small gatherings during the holiday season, Zoom announced that the 40-minute time limit it usually has on its free videoconferencing meetings will be lifted globally on Thanksgiving Day.
  • Normally, the platform offers free meetings for a maximum of 40 minutes. Paid plans range from around $150-$200 per year for unlimited meeting minutes.

Karen’s Fit Tip: Use common sense. Evaluate the risk/benefit of gathering for Thanksgiving. Each individual family situation is different. Make your own decision on how you wish to spend the holiday without criticizing those who wish to do it differently.

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