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How health experts recommend reducing COVID-19 risk over Thanksgiving

While the safest option for Thanksgiving is to avoid gatherings with people from outside your home, you can still do things to mitigate risk if you plan to travel.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended that people avoid travel over Thanksgiving, explaining that the safest way to prevent COVID-19 spread is to avoid gatherings with people outside of your household.

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But if you choose to travel or gather with people outside of your household, the CDC and other health groups have issued guidance on how you can still limit COVID-19 risks. 

The CDC's Thanksgiving guidelines say to keep any gathering small and eat outdoors if possible. If you must eat inside, try to keep windows and doors open to provide for the best ventilation possible.

A more detailed CDC guide on holiday celebrations and small gatherings says if you choose to eat outdoors under a tent, you should still try to seat yourselves in a way that follows social distancing guidelines. The best option for a tent is a pop-up open air tent, but if weather forces you to use a 4-wall tent the CDC recommends you either keep one wall open or roll up the bottom 12 inches on each sidewall. Doing so improves the ventilation within the tent.

Basic COVID-19 preventative measures like hand washing and mask-wearing are still useful during Thanksgiving celebrations and the CDC recommends that everyone should wear a mask when not eating or drinking, even when celebrating outside. Anyone arriving should wash their hands immediately and should do so again before handling things and once more when they leave.

The CDC also says you should try to avoid singing or shouting during Thanksgiving celebrations and use contactless trash cans if you have them.

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While the CDC says you should clean and disinfect commonly used surfaces and items, such as serving utensils, the CDC believes one person -- wearing a mask -- should be responsible for serving food to everyone to reduce shared contact of serving items.

The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) suggests that you use contactless grocery delivery for any ingredients or menu items and that you consider cooking the turkey on a grill or an outdoor turkey fryer to keep meal preparation safe as well. Guests should be encouraged to bring their own utensils and food for any Thanksgiving gatherings, the CDC says. 

While both the CDC and the AAP think a virtual Thanksgiving meal using video calling apps is the best option, and shorter gatherings are better than longer celebrations, both have advice for travel and overnight stays, as well. 

Both say travel in a private car is better than traveling by plane, train or bus if you have the option. The CDC warns against air travel because it can be difficult to socially distance within the plane, in the airport terminal and in security lines, but they recommend doing so when possible and wearing a mask at all times. For private travel on the road, the AAP says you should always wear a mask when getting gas and you should plan and pack your meals ahead of time so you don’t have to stop at restaurants along the way.

The CDC says college students returning home from school should be treated as overnight guests. Any overnight guest, including students returning home, should stow luggage out of common areas immediately and keep masks and clothing laundered separately. People from different households should wear masks both inside and outside anytime they’re not eating or drinking and should wash their hands for 20 seconds regularly, especially upon arrival. Once again, the CDC recommends improving ventilation by keeping windows and doors open whenever possible. College students can be treated as household members after 14 days of following guest precautions if they stay for longer, health experts say. 

Finally, hosts and guests alike should be monitored for symptoms of COVID-19. And you should absolutely not participate in gatherings of any sort if you’ve recently been diagnosed with COVID-19, have COVID-19 symptoms, have recently been exposed to someone with COVID-19 or if you are at high-risk of severe illness. There are already risks associated with travel and gatherings as is, but the risks are even greater when involving people in these groups.