The holiday season is upon us, and for the time being, COVID isn’t letting up. As the airborne virus looms and the third wave of cases rising seems imminent, many are left feeling rather clueless about how to handle the holidays. Despite the dangers of meeting with loved ones in intimate settings, there are still plenty of precautions to help ensure Thanksgiving isn’t totally canceled.
Wearing a mask can cut down the risk of infection, especially when paired up with social distancing guidelines. But how does one navigate a holiday made for shoveling food into your mouth while trying to keep their face covered?
Choose an effective mask
The most important thing you can do to have a happy and healthy Thanksgiving this year is to wear an effective mask. It’s great that more people are wearing them these days, but unfortunately not all masks are made equal. You can’t beat an N95 for filtration purposes, but since those should be reserved for medical workers, your next best bet is an FDA-registered surgical mask. We really like the ones made by Austin-based retailer Armbrust, which have the coveted ASTM Level III rating (the highest rating a surgical mask can get). With 99.2% bacterial and particle filtration, you really can’t go wrong pairing one of these with your Thanksgiving plans.
Now the hard part: You might be tempted to remove your mask, thinking that six feet will be enough to keep you safe from the airborne death spores. Leave it on. Sure, it’s not the most comfortable thing to wear, but it will keep you and the ones you love safe. If you want to eat safely, consider doing so outside––which is what we'll talk about next!
Clear the air
When possible, take your gathering outside. Get creative with accommodating for the elements by utilizing canopy tents, umbrellas, outdoor heaters, and firepits.
Gatherings aren’t recommended indoors. The EPA states that indoor air is two to five times more concentrated in pollutants than outdoor air. That’s because recirculation is poor and there's less ventilation. If you’re still planning to have Thanksgiving indoors, plan ahead by way of quarantining and testing, then gather at the largest abode possible. Keep windows open if possible and consider investing in an air purifier and HEPA filters. The CDC notes these are helpful ways to reduce airborne contaminants, including viruses, but it’s important to note that alone is still not enough to protect yourself and others from COVID.
Regardless of where you choose to host, you’ll need to scale back the size of your usual group. Keep it to 10 people or fewer. Others can Zoom in when it comes time to slice the turkey.
Considering that few people live alone, you really only need to ensure that each household socially distances six feet apart. Grandpa and grandpa don’t really need to maintain a safe distance from each other when they have been exposed to each other’s air for the past 30+ years. For that reason, this is not the year to sit at one long table.
Instead of pulling out the runner and leaf extensions, set up a cafe-style Thanksgiving layout. Safely space out small tables so that each household can sit together.
Cooking a meal together with family is one of the most traditional aspects of the Thanksgiving holiday. Unfortunately, it’s hard to do safely considering social distancing guidelines, mask or no mask.
There are a couple of ways to handle cooking the food this year. The easiest way (albeit the most time- and labor-intensive) is to have a brown bag lunch-style Thanksgiving. Everyone cooks their own meal and simply gathers from a safe distance to enjoy it together.
When possible, ensure guests cook their contributions to the meal at home. Divide the servings up per household for a family-style meal at each cafe table. If you’re planning to keep it buffet-style, keep them in a warm oven, in the fridge, or sealed on a counter that is away from the gathering hungry horde.
If your kitchen is sprawling enough to handle more than one or two cooks at a time, congrats on your current tax bracket. Still, it is wiser to enforce a “one person at a time” rule for the kitchen, or at least have sous chefs from your own household. The beauty of Thanksgiving is that almost any part of the home (save for the bathroom) becomes a makeshift kitchen. Make junior peel yams in his room. Pops can butterfly the turkey on his workbench in the garage. You’ve got the space, use it.
It probably goes without saying that is not the year for perfection, so refrain from sampling as you cook. The dangers only increase when you take a mask off to test the seasoning on the gravy or mashed potatoes.
This may be the most difficult aspect of the holiday. What’s Thanksgiving without the meal? Everyone eating at one table is going to be a serious no-no this year. Luckily, just about any surface can be used to eat. A coffee table? Sure. A TV tray? Even better. As previously stated, family members who already live together can also sit and eat together, considering they’re already exposed to each other. As previously mentioned, also consider sitting and eating outside to allow more space between diners.
When it comes to serving the food, folks can go into the kitchen one by one and serve themselves buffet style. Of course, only after they’ve popped on a mask. Same procedure should be repeated for dessert. When it comes to actually eating, be sure to put your mask on right after swallowing your last bite.
Chill, fun isn’t canceled
Have you ever played a game of socially distanced Jenga? You put the game in the middle of the room. Players go to the center one by one (masked of course) to take their turn at making the tower bigger and bigger before the climactic tumble. This procedure can be followed with countless other family activities. Except for maybe Monopoly, or other games that involve exchanging items.
Considering just about everyone and their mom games nowadays, rounds of Super Smash. Bros. Ultimate and Jackbox are still possible as long as you’re smart about it. When it comes time to hand the controller to a new person, wipe it down with a disinfecting wipe to ensure no germs are passed onto player 2.
Still worried about the spike in cases across the county? I sympathize. Worst comes to worse, you can simply conduct a Thanksgiving dinner over Zoom. On the bright side, there will be far fewer dishes to do, and the potential for political arguments will be slim to none. However, if you do decide to gather with friends and family, make sure you do it responsibly. Nobody needs a holiday trip to the emergency room.