Oct. 29, 2020 — Most years, Paula Emde’s Thanksgiving plans involve sharing a meal with at least a dozen family members, either at her home in Dunwoody, GA, or at a relative’s lakeside picnic pavilion about 80 miles south of the Atlanta suburb. Her favorite dishes include glazed ham, sweet potatoes, and her mother-in-law’s squash casserole.
She’s planning for the holiday to be a little different in 2020.
“Our main concern this year is to avoid travel, to avoid having anyone travel to our house, and to enjoy the meal safely, which means eating outside,” Emde says.
When people usually think of Thanksgiving, they might envision an iconic Norman Rockwell image of a family gathered around a single table, beaming while a turkey’s served on a platter. For 2020, people may want to prepare for something more like Charlie Brown and his friends sitting outdoors at folding tables.
Held this year on Thursday, Nov. 26, Thanksgiving will be another holiday impacted by the COVID-19 pandemic, with the CDC and other experts recommending either significantly scaled-down, socially distanced activities or replacing the usual traditions with virtual ones to avoid exposure to the airborne illness.
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“The most important thing is trying to assess and minimize the associated risks that are going to occur,” says Mark Rupp, MD, chief of the Infectious Diseases Division at the University of Nebraska Medical Center. “The risks aren’t going to be completely eliminated without eliminating that event. If you have an event with people not in your immediate family bubble, there’s going to be risk involved.”
The CDC’s official holiday guidelines identify lower-risk Thanksgiving activities as having a small dinner party with people in your household or preparing traditional recipes for family and neighbors, but sharing them in ways that avoid in-person contact.
The CDC classifies small, outdoor dinners with friends or family as moderately risky and large, indoor gatherings with people from outside your household as higher-risk.
Rupp finds that outdoor feasts offer a chance to lessen some risk, as long as the late November weather cooperates. “In some parts of the country, you can potentially have this out of doors, with plenty of fresh air and some distance between seating.”