Precautions to Take for Thanksgiving and Black Friday
Since COVID-19 hit the Philadelphia area in March, we’ve replaced parties with virtual happy hours, birthday celebrations with drive-by birthday parades, and indoor dining with outdoor dining or takeout.
But surely we can have Thanksgiving together, right?
If your usual Thanksgiving involves a lot of people inside one house, however, you might want to make some changes this year to protect against COVID-19, says Eric Sachinwalla, MD, Medical Director of Infection Prevention and Control for Einstein Medical Center Philadelphia.
Recent guidance from the city, state and the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) discourages or bans gatherings of people beyond one’s own household to prevent the spread of COVID-19.
“With the recent increases in case counts that we’re seeing across the country and even locally, many cases have been tied to social gatherings between friends and family,” Dr. Sachinwalla says.
One thing to keep in mind, he says, is that “it seems like the time right before you start to develop symptoms, when you might feel totally fine, is one of the times when you’re the most infectious.
“And so that makes things like Thanksgiving really hard because I get the sense that people think there’s no chance that their friends or relatives are sick. And then it turns out that somebody is, and then you can have multiple people getting sick.”
So it’s important to evaluate the level of risk as you plan your Thanksgiving celebration, Dr. Sachinwalla says. Here are his answers to some questions you might have.
What is the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year?
The safest thing to do is to only have Thanksgiving with the people that are in your immediate household and with anybody else to use FaceTime or Google Hangouts or some kind of virtual thing.
If you live in Philadelphia, new restrictions on indoor gatherings take effect Friday, Nov. 20. All indoor gatherings and events involving people from more than one household are prohibited, even in private spaces.
State restrictions taking effect the same day allow indoor gatherings that include people who live outside your household, but require masks to be worn.
Neighboring counties have not yet released updated guidelines but may implement restrictions similar to Philadelphia’s in the near future if case counts continue to increase.
It just won’t feel like Thanksgiving if we don’t have guests. How can we do that and still be safe?
I know the safe way I described is not fun. That’s not the typical holiday experience. And that’s where people need to assess what their risk tolerance and risk comfort is.
The gatherings should be small, with as few people as possible and in compliance with your local restrictions on gatherings. The more people you have, the more challenging it is to space out and the more likelihood that somebody in that group has the virus and doesn’t know it yet. Doing things with smaller numbers also helps with spacing people out.
Wearing a mask is very helpful, but of course it’s hard to eat with a mask on. So wear a mask except the times that you’re eating or drinking. And during those times try to really spread out.
Obviously, anybody who’s sick or has recently been sick should not be there.
How about an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner?
If you’re able to do it outside, that’s better. I’ve seen some people that have done outdoor gatherings and they’ve hired caterers to set up those heaters that you see at restaurants.
One of the theories as to why we saw a drop in cases locally in the summertime is that people were able to do more outside. Now the weather is pushing gatherings indoors, where COVID is spread more easily. But if we get a really nice week, it may be plausible to do Thanksgiving dinner outside.
In Philadelphia, however, the new restrictions being imposed this week require masks and no food or drink for outdoor gatherings. Learn more about Philadelphia’s Safer at Home restrictions. The state allows outdoor gatherings but requires masks if you can’t maintain a six-foot distance between people.
What else should I think about before deciding how to celebrate Thanksgiving?
Remember to consider the potential risks associated with the people you invite. Someone who works around a lot of other people may have a higher chance of potentially coming into contact with someone with COVID-19 than someone who’s been able to work from home. If you’re going to see an older relative who’s at higher risk of serious illness, you have to take that into consideration, too.
Consider whether a gathering is really something that you want or need to do right now, and, if possible, postpone until things are looking better. Unfortunately, virtual get togethers might be the safest thing to do right now. And remember before you have any gatherings in your home to make sure you’re following all local guidance and restrictions.
What if we all quarantine for two weeks ahead of time and then get COVID tests?
On paper, it makes sense. If you stay in your house for two weeks and you don’t develop any symptoms and you go and get a test and you’re negative, then you’re probably safe to be around other people. But I don’t know too many people that can stay at home for two weeks consecutively and not go to work, so I think the idea is not very practical. It’s not something that I recommend.
Some of my relatives would have to take a train or plane to get together. Is that safe?
Unfortunately, COVID-19 cases are increasing now across the country. The CDC and Pennsylvania officials strongly discourage travel at this time. Effective Nov. 20, anyone coming into Pennsylvania must be able to produce a negative test result from the past 72 hours for the virus that causes COVID-19. Anyone who does not or cannot get a test is required to quarantine for 14 days.
Anyone who does travel should wear a mask in public spaces and maintain a six-foot distance from others. Pennsylvania residents who travel out of the state may also need to get tested before they return or quarantine for 14 days.
Do you have any advice about Black Friday shopping?
Definitely wear a mask, keep your distance, and wash your hands frequently. I strongly recommend against wearing latex gloves or plastic gloves because I think gloves give people a false sense of security. They don’t realize that the gloves can get contaminated. Also a lot of times people take gloves off incorrectly, and so they contaminate their hands and maybe then touch their face. I think that the safer thing to do is to just bring your hand sanitizer and use it.
I don’t know if we’re going to see the crowds like we typically do on Black Friday, but if you’re going to a store and it is packed, you have to assess whether or not that deal is really worth being in that crowded area for that amount of time. If online shopping, like Cyber Monday, is feasible for you, you might want to do that instead.
What other steps should people take to stay healthy now?
It’s still really important to get your flu shot. There’s a lot of talk about the COVID-19 vaccine coming, but the flu shot is available now. It’s not 100% effective, but it still reduces the chances of serious illness and deaths, especially in high-risk groups of people. So if you haven’t gotten your flu shot, get it as soon as possible. It will help protect you and your loved ones and it will help protect the hospitals and healthcare system so that we can take care of the patients who have COVID-19 and other things that we don’t have a vaccine for.