Thanksgiving will certainly look and feel different this year, as all of us have had to alter our plans and find ways to keep our loved ones safe and healthy.
On November 17, Governor Phil Murphy tightened restrictions on indoor gatherings, limiting the number of persons to 10.
With families navigating a smaller, intimate Thanksgiving dinner, and many welcoming back college students, the safest way to have a healthy holiday would be to get tested, if possible, and to celebrate with just your immediate family who live in the same household.
If you are hosting guests who do not live with you, and are not already self-quarantining, the time to start is today. A 10-day to two-week quarantine before Thanksgiving would have been ideal, but since we are already past that, you should make a plan to lock down immediately.
What about a test?
For those who still want to gather at Thanksgiving, the lack of widespread available testing and the turnaround time on results may make testing an unreasonable option. Testing is also not foolproof. The PCR test is a better choice than a rapid antigen test, but even if you get a negative result, it is only for that day – not one, two, or three days later.
Therefore, the best option is to social distance in your home; wear a mask at all times except when eating; and find a way to entertain outside if weather permits. Keep windows open and air circulating when inside.
Welcoming college students back home
Colleges are in flux regarding their plans for the spring semester, but most are closing before Thanksgiving and not reopening until at least January. Colleges are testing students prior to departure, and anyone testing positive must stay where they are and quarantine for two weeks. This means they will miss Thanksgiving dinner at home.
If your student is returning home -- and re-entering your home bubble – he or she should be tested and must quarantine for 14 days regardless of testing status. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says that means taking meals in his or her own room, if possible. The student should not share dishes, drinking glasses, cups, or utensils. Non-disposable items used should be handled with gloves and washed with soap and hot water or in a dishwasher.
The student should use a separate bathroom, if possible; avoid placing toothbrushes or other personal items on the counter; and wipe down all surfaces with a disinfectant.
The road ahead
The news about the anticipated FDA approval of COVID-19 vaccines is exciting, but it may be months before individuals can be vaccinated. We are currently in a second wave now in the Northeast, with Holy Name experiencing upticks in COVID-positive patients.
The pandemic landscape looks different now because people are sick, but not as sick as in the spring. We are concerned, however, that we have a long winter ahead. It will get worse before it gets better. I expect after Thanksgiving, and during Christmas, Hanukkah, and New Year’s, there will be significant bumps.
Anytime we step outside our bubble, we increase our risk of infection. This is especially true as people travel and interact with others, even at a safe distance and while accomplishing essential tasks, such as grocery shopping.
I am not advising people to give up gathering or seeing family during the holidays, but do it differently, perhaps by a video chat or Zoom greeting. Be especially careful mixing with vulnerable people, such as seniors, babies, and those who are immuno-compromised.
Celebrating the major December/January holidays will be more difficult this year, but with creativity we can start new traditions that will be fun, safe, and festive.
To make an appointment with a Holy Name healthcare provider, visit HolyNameMedicalPartners.org. In-person and telemedicine appointments can be scheduled by phone or online.