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Here’s How To Celebrate Safely With Your Family This Thanksgiving

On any other Thanksgiving, dozens of Olga Garcia's family members would squeeze into her home for the holiday. But this year, everyone will sit down to eat in their own homes at precisely 6:30 p.m. and join a group phone call.

PEORIA — For many families, this Thanksgiving will look like no other.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends avoiding travel, and only celebrating in-person with people you live with to avoid potential spread of COVID-19.

Listen to the audio version of this story.

“There is no answer that is completely safe, short of complete physical distancing and going virtual 100%,” said Dr. Samer Sader, the chief medical officer at UnityPoint Health-Methodist.

For in-person gatherings with people who live outside your household, Sader said an outdoor, well-spaced celebration would be safest.

“Outdoor has the huge advantage that the air flow and the air exchange is significantly higher than in any home, short of a specialized room. So you take advantage of outdoors anytime you can,” he said.

But with unpredictable Midwestern autumn weather, he said any such gathering is more likely than not to be shifted indoors. And that comes with higher risks–especially for the vulnerable.

Monica Hendrickson, administrator for the Peoria City/County Health Department, recommends considering a virtual gathering with your extended family.

“It’s not going to look the same. I want to reiterate, nobody’s telling you to cancel Thanksgiving or cancel celebrations. They’re really important, especially around mental health and fatigue,” Hendrickson said. “They’re just going to look a little bit different this year. And that’s the key.”

Dr. Ted Bender, a psychologist and president of UnityPlace, said pandemic fatigue is real, and many people are yearning for the togetherness and normalcy the holidays may offer.

“People are, including myself, tired of Zoom calls and Teams meetings, and all that,” he said.

But he said that’s exactly the reason not to let up now.

“It is so absolutely important that we maintain our vigilance right now. Because this is the most dangerous time of the year, so far. And the holiday gatherings, as much as I hate to say it, need to be minimized,” Bender said.

He said school-aged children can grasp why it’s important to celebrate a little differently this year. He told how he’s explained to his own kids why their family will be having a virtual Thanksgiving.

“I’ve told them grandma and grandpa won’t be here this year. And I explained why. Because it’s very dangerous for older people to get COVID-19. And they understand the most important thing is to take care of grandma and grandpa,” he said.

If you do choose to travel despite the risks, Hendrickson said you should make sure you’ve had your flu shot, quarantine before your Thanksgiving get-together with your extended family–and get tested beforehand.

The CDC also recommends wearing a mask, staying at least 6 feet apart from those who don’t live with you at all times, washing your hands frequently, and using disposable plates and utensils.

No matter how you decide to celebrate, Sader said it’s important to follow all the safety guidelines.

“Help the community while we’re having a high percentage of positive patients that are requiring hospital care, because that is our great limiting factor,” Sader said.

And Hendrickson said it’s also important to try to find a silver lining somewhere in this difficult situation.

“This may be the year that I don’t have to clean my house for the first time for Thanksgiving. So I’m taking the positive with it,” she said.

The CDC and Illinois Department of Public Health have more tips on how you can still celebrate Thanksgiving safely with your family this year.

Tim Shelly is the news director at Peoria Public Radio.

Brian Moline

Brian Moline

Brian Moline is the Managing Editor of Illinois Newsroom and host of Morning Edition for Illinois Public Media/WILL. He's been with WILL since 2015, after a long stint at WDWS-AM in Champaign where he covered both news and sports for more than a decade. If you have story or interview ideas, you can reach Brian at bmoline@illinois.edu.

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