How to have a safe Thanksgiving amid COVID-19 pandemic

BY CORIE LYNN

The months of November and December are typically times for loved ones to gather together, to share meals with one another and exchange gifts.

With COVID-19 cases growing in recent weeks, including close to home in Ellis County, the safety and feasibility of holiday tradition comes to question.

Now, students are leaving Fort Hays State University to begin Fall Break. Across the country, individuals and families are traveling to celebrate Thanksgiving, as they do every year.

In the midst of the pandemic, it raises the question of whether it is actually safe to gather together for the holidays. With Thanksgiving often centered on a shared meal that could increase the risk of virus spread, this question is especially important.

The Center for Disease Control has released a guide to Thanksgiving in the time of pandemic, in which they detail ways to safely celebrate this holiday with loved ones.

Recommendations for improving the safety of Thanksgiving include only gathering with one’s household, or celebrating outdoors and limiting the number of people at one’s gathering, washing hands, wearing a mask when not eating and staying six feet away from other people.

Considering these basic guidelines, the answer to whether it is safe to gather for the holiday is a simple “No.”

As long as large groups present the risk of spreading the coronavirus, gatherings remain unsafe. However, there are still ways to curb that risk while still spending time with one another and participating in the holidays.

According to the CDC’s Thanksgiving guide, those attending gatherings can maintain safety by bringing their own food and utensils, staying away from areas reserved for food preparation and using single-use food packets and utensils.

Hosts should also consider ways to ensure the safety of their gatherings.

This includes communicating expectations with guests ahead of time, cleaning and disinfecting their celebration space and having one person serve any shared food.

Another way to safely celebrate Thanksgiving is to consider alternatives to traditional activities, such as the adjusted Hays Thanksgiving Community Meal.

The CDC suggests watching movies and playing games with one’s household, sharing meals virtually by video calling loved ones and by shopping online day-after-Thanksgiving sales events.

In addition, one can share what they are thankful for or “[s]afely prepare traditional dishes and deliver them to family and neighbors in a way that does not involve contact with others (for example, leave them on the porch).”

With so many necessary precautions and the ever-present risk of the spread of illness, why do we even consider gathering for Thanksgiving or find alternative ways of celebrating?

What it comes down to is this: traditions may be required to change, but the meaning behind those traditions is worth salvaging.

This meaning, according to FHSU Kelly Center counselor Sadie Spurlock, is rooted in gratitude and spending time with loved ones during the holidays provides a sense of security.

“It can also reduce feelings of stress and anxiety and foster feelings of acceptance and belonging,” she said. “With the majority of people feeling new levels and kinds of stress this year, this can be a very beneficial and healthy time.”

Within the uncertainty of the pandemic, spending time in community is as important as ever, even if gathering for a Thanksgiving meal looks like a group Zoom call during dinner.

Spurlock explains that the community found through revisiting relationships during the holidays are a reprieve from the difficulties of the year, fighting off loneliness and welcoming fond memories.

“I can only speak for myself, but I know that I have come to appreciate and value relationships more throughout this pandemic as I have seen/experienced relational loss in one way or another,” she said.

Evenso, Spurlock explains that we must acknowledge that the holidays, even outside the context of global pandemic, can be stressful times for some. Because of this, we must be intentional in connecting with those who are supportive and check in with friends who find this season to be difficult.

With this in mind, the question of gathering for Thanksgiving is a complex one.

On one hand, we must consider that gatherings of any number increases the risk of contracting illness. On the other, spending time with loved ones remains essential to maintaining relationships and relieving everyday stress.

The answer, then, is to approach the holiday season with caution, taking measures to ensure everyone’s safety, whether that is to enjoy turkey and stuffing in the outdoors or over Zoom.

All the while, we must remember that Thanksgiving isn’t simply about maintaining tradition or being around people, but appreciating the roles of loved ones we spend time with.

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