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To host a safe holiday meal, expert offers tips

Keeping holiday gatherings small can limit the spread of the COVID-19 coronavirus, but even household celebrations need extra thought this year.

Here are suggestions to keep ourselves and others safe. Overall, keep plans small and flexible, and remember that the health of those we love is most important as we enter the season of gratitude.

Before you gather

First, it is important that everyone who will be attending any holiday celebration is on the same page about how to take precautions before getting together. The idea is to lower infection risk in the weeks leading up to the holidays and then test to confirm.

In general, everyone should plan to be vigilant in their public health practices beforehand, especially since grandparents are at higher risk. Limit contact with other people as much as possible the week before Thanksgiving, and be extra cautious around the few close people we see regularly.

In conjunction with quarantining, testing is the second strategy.

Research has consistently shown that people are most contagious a day or two before they show symptoms, so everyone should get tested with an RT-PCR test within 72 hours of Thanksgiving, to get results in hand before we gather. Rapid tests should be a second choice, as they are less reliable and can be expensive.

Where and how to eat and socialize

No matter how careful people are, there is some risk that someone will be infected. The goal is to reduce the conditions that lead to viral spread. The biggest risks are indoor spaces with poor ventilation, large groups and close contact. If weather permits, a good plan would be a short outdoor Thanksgiving with a small group and plenty of space between everyone.

Rather than eat around one table, have individual tables and place settings spaced far apart and space heaters around. For comfort, provide a blanket, hand sanitizer, utensils and a festive face mask for each person.

Keep the kitchen a one-person operation.

If the weather doesn’t cooperate, Plan B is to be inside in a large room with as many windows open as possible and with everyone spaced as far apart as possible. Open doors and windows. Consider turning on exhaust fans and using an air purifier.

Whether outside or inside, everyone should wear masks when they aren’t eating, maintain 6 feet of distance and use hand sanitizer (place bottles throughout the house).

It is also important to be mindful of alcohol consumption. A pandemic is not the time for lowered inhibitions and bad judgment.

After the event

The work is not done once the dishes are clean and everyone is home safely. Everyone should get another COVID–19 test one week after the meal. And if more holiday celebrations are planned in the following weeks, evaluate what worked well and what didn’t this time.

The ending of 2020 deserves to be celebrated, given this difficult year. This Thanksgiving will be different from other years’, and people need to manage their expectations.

If getting together isn’t workable, find other ways to share, such as visiting via Zoom. One idea for a new tradition is for each person to offer thanks for at least one thing to be thankful for. Families can still share love, some laughs and a good meal while everyone does their part to protect one another.

This article by Melissa Hawkins of American University is republished from The Conversation under a Creative Commons license. 

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