Coronavirus News: CDC releases updated guidelines for Thanksgiving

COVID-19 News and Information
NEW YORK CITY (WABC) -- The CDC's guidance for Thanksgiving emphasizes that the safest option for the holiday is celebrating only with people in your household or taking extra precautions like wearing masks and keeping your distance if you celebrate with others.

A safe Thanksgiving during a pandemic is possible, but health experts know their advice is as tough to swallow as dry turkey: Stay home. Don't travel. If you must gather, do it outdoors.

"Traditional Thanksgiving gatherings with family and friends are fun but can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu," the agency said in its updated guidance. "Follow these tips to make your Thanksgiving holiday safer."

The CDC has also adjusted its guidance to recommend that Americans NOT travel for the Thanksgiving holiday next week. The agency had already said to celebrate only with your household or virtually, but this goes a step further to actively recommend against travel.

"Right now, especially as we're seeing exponential growth in cases and the opportunity to translocate disease or infection from one part of the country to another, leads to our recommendation to avoid travel at this time," CDC COVID-19 incident manager Dr. Henry Walke said.

With a fall surge of coronavirus infections gripping the U.S., many Americans are forgoing tradition and getting creative with celebrations.

"The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household," the agency said. "If you do plan to spend Thanksgiving with people outside your household, take steps to make your celebration safer."

Related: Party rental companies see surge in request for tents for Thanksgiving

In New York City, Mayor Bill de Blasio urged residents not to travel and not to participate in large gatherings.

"My hope is I think a lot of people were not going to travel who did in the past," he said. "I think a lot of people made that decision already for a variety of reasons. My hope is the folks who were on the fence and were hoping to travel, you know, thinking about it, planning a little bit, will now realize it's not the time to travel."

He said he knows it's frustrating.

"It's horrible...We're going to have to go through the whole holiday season without some of the things we love," he said. "People have to hang on and hang tough to get through this immediate period. And I think we'll get to see some real relief come."

In recent weeks and as the weather has cooled down, public health officials have said they're concerned small gatherings were fueling the number of cases. This new guidance points out that even with friends and family, precautions need to be taken to prevent the holiday from adding to the trend of increasing cases.

The CDC says to make Thanksgiving safer, if you are with friends or family outside your household, you should wear a well-fitting mask, keep 6 feet of distance from people who do not live with you, and keep hands clean. The agency also recommends bringing your own plate, cups, and utensils, store your mask safely while eating and drinking, avoid going in and out of the kitchen while food is being prepared, and using single use options for condiments and food containers.

Hosts can plan the meal outdoors with a limited group or open windows if dining indoors, talk with guests about expectations beforehand, sanitize surfaces, or even consider having guests bring their own food and drink.

If you are traveling, the guidance emphasizes checking travel restrictions, getting your flu shot, wearing a mask, distancing, and washing hands often in public places.

CLICK HERE for the full CDC guidelines

Experts point to Canada, where Thanksgiving was celebrated October 12 and clusters of cases were tied to family gatherings followed.

"This sucks. It really, really does," Canada Prime Minister Justin Trudeau said two weeks later.

What about a quarantine? The magic day to start a pre-Thanksgiving quarantine is November 13, according to Lindsey Leininger, who leads the Nerdy Girls, a cadre of scientists collaborating on a website called Dear Pandemic.

A strict quarantine would mean no grocery shopping, no working outside the home and no in-person school for 14 days.

What about testing? The best day to test would be as close to Turkey Day as possible while still leaving enough time to get results. But a test might not catch a still brewing infection so the best plan is the quarantine for two weeks - the time it can take for symptoms to show up.

Instead of that rigmarole, Leininger said her children will see their grandparents via Zoom on Thanksgiving. After dinner, the family will meet neighbors in the driveway for pie.

"We bring our own pie and they bring their own pie," said Leininger, of Dartmouth College in Hanover, New Hampshire. "It's cold here in northern New England, but pie can be a quick activity."

Related: Butterball assures no turkey shortage this Thanksgiving

When it seems cruel that everything most loved about Thanksgiving is forbidden, finding humor in absurdity can help. In a video on Twitter, New York comedian Matt Buechele offers an increasingly silly list of Thanksgiving precautions, including water balloons filled with gravy and kids' tables for all.

"Before we eat, everyone's going to go around the table, say one thing they're thankful for and one thing they scream into their pillow at night," Buechele said.

That's a joke, but the comedian thinks it could be a cathartic practice. "The thing I continue to scream into my pillow is, 'Why is it like this? It didn't have to be this way! And, my God, when will it end?'" he said.

In New Jersey, the nonprofit HealthBarn Foundation usually co-hosts a sit-down Thanksgiving feast for 150 older adults. This year, volunteers prepared and froze individual meals and packaged them in insulated bags. Seniors will be able reheat the food at home.

"No one wanted to cancel it," said HealthBarn director Stacey Antine. "You want to show that you still love people and honor them. And you want to make sure that they have nutritious food for this important holiday dinner."

On any other Thanksgiving, dozens of Olga Garcia's family members would squeeze into her home to make tamales, watch football and tell stories. This year, the 61-year-old professional caregiver will deliver food to family spread along 30 miles of the North Cascades Highway in Washington state.

If the plan works, everyone will sit down at the same time to eat in their own homes and join a group phone call.

"We're going to be wise about this," Garcia said. "We're just crossing our fingers that in 2021 we'll be able to sit down at our table and get crazy again."

Garcia will get up before dawn to roast a 20-pound turkey and bake capirotada, a bread pudding layered with cheese, bananas, raisins, cinnamon and pecans. Her siblings will prepare other specialties in their homes: tamales, enchiladas, pico de gallo, ceviche, green bean casserole, yams with marshmallows, pumpkin pie and pecan pie. Up and down the route, the feast will be divided into boxes and delivered.

"It's a sad time," Garcia said. "But it can also be a grateful time: that we're all here, that we have a roof over our head, a job to go to and enough food to go around. And for those that don't have enough, we can say, 'Here's a plate.'"

(The Associated Press contributed to this report)

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