How to celebrate Thanksgiving safely during the pandemic

How to celebrate Thanksgiving safely during the pandemic

COLUMBIA, S.C. (WIS) - With South Carolina and 48 other states reporting increases in COVID-19 cases over the past two weeks, health officials are urging Americans to cancel travel plans and any large family gatherings for Thanksgiving.

But despite the warnings, millions of Americans are planning to hit the road or the skies during the holiday. TSA says more than one million people passed through their checkpoints at U.S. airports on Friday, and just under a million on Saturday. That’s about half of what it was a year ago, but also comes on the same weekend the country recorded more than 12 million confirmed coronavirus cases.

This holiday season, thousands of South Carolinians will be missing a loved one who died from COVID-19, and DHEC officials ask that change your plans and stay at home to avoid potentially infecting those you love. “The safest option for celebrating the holidays this year is really going to be spending it with those in the same household as you,” explained Dr. Michael Kacka, DHEC’S lead physician for the COVID-19 response.

Instead of gathering in-person, Dr. Kacka suggests preparing meals for those in your household or dropping a meal off at the door of a loved one, and then scheduling a Zoom or Skype call. “We have the option now to include people all around the world in our celebrations, so it’s one of the things that’s opened up as part of this pandemic,” he noted.

Dr. Kacka and other health officials know many South Carolinians are still moving forward with their normal plans, but they suggest you get tested visiting family. “Getting tested ahead of time can give an extra layer of protection,” said Kacka, who also warns a negative test does not mean you should let your guard down or take your mask off since the virus can take effect up to 14 days after exposure.

If you’re hosting family or friends, consider eating outside. If celebrating outdoors isn’t possible, open windows and doors to let in fresh air. The CDC also recommends putting a fan in the window to blow air out, which will in turn pull fresh air in through the other open windows. “Get some more ventilation inside, that’s going to help, as well making sure that we’re limiting the number of guests, typically recommending 10 guests or less,” said Dr. Kacka.

Instead of a buffet line, have the cook prepare meals on plastic plates, and consider single-use condiments. While experts don’t believe there’s a danger of the virus spreading through the food, the biggest concern is crowding around the kitchen. The cook should wear a mask, and frequently cleaning surfaces and items after use is also best practice, according to Dr. Kacka. “It can be a false sense of security thinking that these are our friends and family that we know, but unfortunately, if they live in different households, they travel in different social circles, they potentially have different exposures,” he noted.

While the holidays may look different, Dr. Kacka says these are just small steps to take to protect yourself and your family. With a vaccine potentially only a few weeks away from approval, health officials are hopeful. “If they are as effective as they might be, we may be approaching more of a holiday season next year,” said Dr. Kacka.

DHEC says if South Carolinians don’t follow these precautions, we could see cases, hospitalizations and even deaths spike before Christmas.

It’s not just thanksgiving that concerns health officials, but they are also asking you to avoid packing stores on Black Friday and limit celebrations throughout the Christmas season.

You can find DHEC’S full list of Thanksgiving safety tips here.

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