Pass the Turkey, Not the Virus

By: Taylor Andres

As COVID-19 infections continue to increase around the country, it’s important to consider whether a traditional Thanksgiving dinner is the safest way to celebrate this year. Before making plans to pass the stuffing and cranberry sauce around the table, remember that you could also be unintentionally passing the novel coronavirus to members of your family.

“This is a time to think about the health and wellbeing of you, your family near and far, and the public,” said Dr. Joe Suyama, chief of emergency medicine at UPMC Magee-Womens Hospital. “This is a year not to travel, but instead to enjoy your pod— the close contacts you’ve maintained throughout the pandemic— and make use of technology to bring larger groups together in a virtual fashion.”

Homes can be significant sources of transmission for COVID-19, and even people who feel healthy could be carrying the virus. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends limiting gatherings to those who live together in the same household.

“People can be asymptomatic or pre-symptomatic, and that’s when they’re at the greatest risk for spreading the virus, particularly when they are within six feet of someone else for more than 15 minutes without masks,” said Suyama. “This would be the case for guests at a prolonged meal, unfortunately making Thanksgiving dinner a high-risk activity.”

Even if you have received a negative rapid COVID-19 test, it is still not recommended that you travel or celebrate the holiday with members of your extended family. Rapid test results are not always accurate and symptoms can still develop days after a negative test result.

If you choose to host a small Thanksgiving gathering, consider the following safety measures:

• Ask those on your guest list to be extra vigilant with masking, physical distancing and handwashing in the 14 days prior to your gathering.

Request that guests wear a mask to the gathering in advance and reinforce the importance of masking while family members are not eating or drinking.

Move dinner outside if the weather permits. A porch or patio with space heaters, or a garage with a door open, would increase air flow and reduce the risk of transmission. When not eating, it is important to still wear a mask outside if family members can’t remain physically distanced.

Keep visits shorter than usual. The less time people are gathered, the less time there is to spread the virus.

Reduce or replace high-touch items. Everyday items like serving spoons at the table or hand towels in the bathroom can become a source of spread. Use individual or disposable options where appropriate.

“This is about our individual actions. The impact of our behaviors on Thanksgiving won’t be known until just before the next major holiday, and cases could rise even higher,” said Suyama. “As always, be safe, wash your hands and wear a mask.”

Additional information on Thanksgiving COVID-19 safety and risk factors can be found through the CDC.