Listen, this is not a feel-good story about how you can definitely go see your family this Thanksgiving because you really, really, really miss them and haven’t seen them since before the pandemic. We’re still mid-pandemic. As of today, more than 11.2 million people in the country have been infected and at least 246,000 have died, according to the New York Times. Cities around the country are limiting large gatherings, and the CDC says that even “small household gatherings are an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 case.”
But we also know that some people are choosing to travel this holiday season, despite public health guidelines recommending otherwise. (Everyone is lying right now, remember?) Perhaps you’re quarantining right this very second so you can become a bubble with your parents. Or you’re podding up with your neighbors. Or you’re leaving tomorrow to spend the next six weeks off the grid with your in-laws, which lol, good luck. No matter the specifics, if you’ve decided that you’re willing to take the risk, you should still try to do things as safely as humanly possible.
Ahead, Jaimie Meyer, MD, an infectious disease specialist and assistant professor of medicine at Yale School of Medicine, explains how to be super freaking safe—well, again, safer because the safest option is staying TF home—this Thanksgiving.
Before going anywhere, take every single precaution.
Truly, the last thing you want to do is kill a loved one (sadly, this is not hyperbole) because you were careless before enjoying the holidays with them. Or, you know, have that loved one infect their loved ones who then infect their loved ones who then infect…you get the idea. If you don’t, please stop reading this immediately and Google “how coronavirus spreads” instead. This means quarantining for two weeks and getting tested for COVID-19 before hanging out maskless indoors. To be honest, it’s not a bad idea to quarantine for two weeks even if you plan to hang out maskless outdoors—we all know it’s easier to stick to a social-distancing plan in theory—before you’ve had a glass of wine. If there’s no time to quarantine before your shindig…reconsider your plans altogether. Seriously.
If you are flying by plane or public transportation, bring SO. MUCH. PPE.
Personal protective equipment is everything. According to Dr. Meyer, wear a mask or some sort of facial covering (most airlines mandate this) for the duration of your travels—yep, that means while you’re browsing Hudson Books, throughout your entire flight, and while you’re chasing your suitcase down baggage claim. You also need to BYO hand sanitizer and additional cleaning supplies: “You should have bleach-based wipes to wash down the surfaces in your seat. It’s those hard surfaces—the tray tables, the rails—that could potentially be contaminated,” explains Dr. Meyer. “When you sit down, turn on the air nozzle and shoot it directly at your head; that will allow for kind of the best air flow. If you’re not sitting in a row that will allow you to distance from other people outside your household, ask if you can move to one,” she says.
When you arrive at your destination, you should also quarantine away from your fam in case you contracted COVID-19 during your travels. Wait 3-5 days and then get a test to make sure you’re in the clear.
Make as few stops as possible if you’re driving.
Driving is one of the safest ways that you can travel right now because you’re probably only with the folks in your household (ahem, yeah, that means you should avoid ride share situations if you can). “Limit rest stops as much as possible,” says Dr. Meyer. “If you do have to go into a rest stop, wear a facial covering, bring your hand sanitizer, and cloth bleach wipes as well to wipe down some of those hard surfaces. I carry around a little to-go package of gloves that I use for the gas nozzle and high touch surfaces like credit card swipes.”
Skip the big indoor gatherings, no ifs, ands, or buts.
“No matter how amazing your family Thanksgiving is, it’s really just not worth it to have a big indoor dinner if someone gets sick and dies from it,” warns Dr. Meyer. “The safest thing you can do is have a family Zoom call. Beyond that, everything you do, you take on some amount of risk.” And FYI: the CDC has recommended against having gatherings of over 10 people (some states and cities have mandates that gatherings be smaller than this, too).
Get creative with your celebrations.
This is not a ~normal~ year so why pretend like it is? Instead, try altering your Thanksgiving all together. If your loved ones are close by but not in your household, consider gathering in someone’s backyard pre-turkey, sitting six feet apart with masks on, and just hanging out for an hour. Then go back to your homes and eat separately.
Dr. Meyer advises against serving food family- or buffet- style to those outside your immediate household. If your heart is set on eating outside together, everyone should BYO food and eat only what they’ve prepared themselves. Sit at least six feet (honestly, make it 12) away at separate tables, so you’re only with your household.
Disinvite these folks.
Harsh, but true. The CDC suggests that the people who fall into the categories below should not attend any kind of in-person holiday gathering:
And even though the CDC has no specific guidelines against the following, may we at Cosmopolitan be so bold as to say you should 86 them too?
Set super clear boundaries with your household.
“You’re going to need to have a really clear conversation with the people in your household about whether you’re joining their bubble,” says Dr. Meyer. If you’re planning on traveling to someone’s house and you’ve adhered to all the suggestions above, have a serious convo *before you arrive* to set expectations. Will you wear masks outside the house? Will you even go outside the house? Have you spent IRL time with people outside of the Thanksgiving guest list? Are you comfortable with someone in the household going to the grocery store? The gym? An office? Is Gran-Gran going to get her hair done for Thanksgiving? If so, put your foot down. DIY bouffants or you’re not coming.
And if, for some reason, your fam can’t settle on a plan that works for everyone—like if your mom has to go to work in a COVID-19 unit at a hospital but your partner is immunocompromised, or if your brother refuses to wear a mask while he hangs out with friends outside the household—then unfortunately, you should probably consider canceling the whole damn thing. And yes, it really sucks. Everything about the pandemic sucks. But one missed Thanksgiving is totally worth it if it means you’ll be able to celebrate with your extended fam next year, right?
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