UMMC offers advice on planning a safe Thanksgiving celebration

Thanksgiving is normally a time for getting the whole family together, but as you well know, nothing about 2020 is normal. With the coronavirus pandemic continuing to spike in Mississippi and across the country, health officials are recommending that you make some adjustments to your turkey day celebration this year. 

Dr. Bhagyashri Navalkele, a University of Mississippi Medical Center infectious diseases specialist, is advising you on how to minimize your risk of transmission this Thanksgiving. 

“We know that there is high transmission, and traveling is considered high risk for exposure, even if you are trying to do your best by wearing a mask and social distancing,” Dr. Navalkele, UMMC assistant professor of infectious diseases and medical director of infection prevention and control, said. “The best solution is to avoid family gatherings with anyone except those living in your household.

Dr. Navalkele reiterated the CDC’s guidance on the different sizes of gatherings and how you can plan a safer celebration. 

Low-risk activities – having a small dinner with only the people in your household, having a virtual Thanksgiving dinner with friends or family, shopping online instead of in person at post-Thanksgiving Day sales and watching sports events, parades and movies from home.

Moderately risky activities – having a small indoor or outdoor dinner with friends and family who live in your community, following CDC recommendations on hosting gatherings or cookouts and attending small outdoor sports events with safety precautions in place.

High-risk activities – attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside your household, shopping in person in crowded stores and attending crowded sporting events or parades.

So, what can you do to help protect your family this Thanksgiving? Dr. Navalkele provided the following tips for lessening the chances of transmission:

  • Encourage elderly people or those with medical conditions not to travel to your home. Explain the risks, including the chance of hospitalization and the need for oxygen therapy if they contract the virus.

“If they stay home, don’t let them get exposed from those who may be traveling to them from the outside,” Navalkele said. “If you want to see your grandma or grandpa next Thanksgiving, protect them this Thanksgiving as much as possible. Advise your family and friends to monitor their symptoms, and if they have any at all, advise them to stay isolated at home and not attend your gathering.”

  • If you do have guests coming in from outside your household, advise them to quarantine for 14 days before traveling.

“Tell them not to go to bars, restaurants or public events 14 days prior to a family gathering,” she said. “That way, they can limit their exposure and lower the risk that they will bring the virus with them.”

  • Ask visitors to get a COVID-19 test 48 hours before their arrival.

“That doesn’t mean that they can’t test positive tomorrow, but it gives you a little bit of a better bubble. That way, if they also quarantine, they have done everything they can to follow all precautions.”

  • Ask guests if they’ve gotten their flu shot, and if they haven’t, encourage them to do so before visiting your home.
  • When deciding on the number of guests you will have, “there’s no magic number, but less is better,” Navalkele said.
  • Plan in terms of having adequate social distancing – 6 feet – between guests, and move the celebration outdoors, if possible.

“If you must be inside, keep doors and windows open so that there can be good ventilation. Definitely ask people not to stand in groups, sing or do any other activities that would generate aerosol droplets.

“Mask wearing is good, but when you eat, the masks come off. That makes ventilation and distancing so important.”

  • Thoroughly disinfect your home before and after hosting guests. Make sure guests have easy access to hand sanitizer and masks and access to a sink for washing their hands.
  • When serving a Thanksgiving meal, don’t allow people to fill their plates buffet-style.“Everyone serving themselves is increasing the risk,” Navalkele said. “That’s a lot of people touching utensils, and the virus can be spread by contact.”

Instead, dedicate one or two people to do the serving, and “sanitize your hands before touching or serving anything.”

  • Finally, consider keeping the Thanksgiving celebration to the nuclear family living in your home and Zoom or FaceTime with friends and relatives as everyone gathers for their meal.“You can all enjoy dinner together in a way that does not increase your risk.”