How to Navigate Thanksgiving in a Pandemic

Thanksgiving is fast approaching, and if you thought that we’d still be where we are (staying home, washing our hands, wearing masks, social distancing) all of these months after March, well, then I guess you’re vindicated. Thanksgiving is going to look a lot different this year for millions of people across the country. Some will travel early with enough time for quarantining, isolating, or a COVID-19 test (or some combination of that), others will forego their usual bustling holiday table for something more low-key, and still others are scrapping plans entirely, planning on a Thanksgiving dinner for just one or two. It’s hard, this navigating life events, milestones, and holidays during a global pandemic, and while we certainly all hope that next year is an altogether different kind of situation, you don’t just have to ignore the holidays entirely (unless, of course, you want to—this year, all bets are off). The precautions you ultimately decide to take will be dependent on many different factors, but there are some things that you should keep top of mind so that you can (hopefully) celebrate safely this year.


Source: Adrian Cotiga | Stocksy


If you’re traveling

Airports and interstates are notoriously busy during the week of Thanksgiving. But this year isn’t most years and many more people are likely staying closer to home than they would otherwise. The CDC advises that you stay close to home rather than travel because any travel can increase the risk that you’ll be exposed to or come down with COVID-19. If you’re still planning on traveling, the precautions you need to take vary based on how you’re traveling.

If you’re planning on a plane, train, or any other kind of group transportation, make sure you have masks with you (and wear them while traveling). According to Healthline, mask-wearing is required by all major airline carriers. Some airlines still have social distancing measures in place, while others are again approving filling flights to capacity, so if you feel strongly about trying your best to continue social distancing on the plane, you may need to do a little research. Delta, Southwest, JetBlue, Alaska Airlines, and Hawaiian Airlines are still blocking some seats, according to reporting from the Washington Post, but they’re not all doing so for the same length of time, so if you’re flying closer to the end of the year, your airline options may change.

Driving in your own car gives you more control over the precautions taken, but don’t forget to think through how you’re going to handle staying safe if or when you need to stop—for gas, for food, for the night, or to use the bathroom.

No matter how you’re traveling, make sure you pack plenty of wipes and sanitizer, wash your hands frequently, wear a mask, and stay conscious of if or how often you’re touching your face.


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If you’re staying closer to home

Staying home doesn’t mean that you don’t have any difficult decisions to make. If your Thanksgiving normally looks like tons of family and friends gathered in one place (indoors), it may need to look a little different this year.

Michael Osterholm from the Center for Infectious Diseases Research and Policy at the University of Minnesota told STAT News that no one should gather with anyone who lives outside of their household this year because the risk is just too great. The CDC, however, lists a few other suggestions for people who are concerned by the idea of essentially canceling Thanksgiving altogether:


  • Make traditional recipes for people who can’t gather with you and do a no-contact drop-off.
  • Take your Thanksgiving virtual.
  • Skip Black Friday shopping and shop from the comfort of home (or in person later on).
  • Skip in-person sporting events, parades, and more and watch from home or participate virtually.


If skipping a dinner just isn’t something you’re willing to do this year, taking as many precautions as possible can help keep the risk lower. One basic thing you can do is to just continue to make sure you’re following expert guidance to wear a mask, wash your hands, don’t touch your face, stay apart, and get together outside, Stephen Morse, an epidemiologist at Columbia University, told The Atlantic. The CDC’s guidance for hosting or attending a gathering can also help you lower some of your risk. Restricting attendance to your “pandemic pod” (as long as everyone is doing their part) might feel safer to you this year. Keeping an eye on what conditions are like where you are and using that to help decide if you’re going to pare back this year (or even make the transition to FaceTime) may also be a good idea.

If you live somewhere that outdoor celebrations are possible, consider moving dinner outside this year, a 2020 move if we’ve ever seen one. Experts say that being outdoors is safer than being indoors, so that’s one more way you can try to mitigate some of the risk.


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If you’re celebrating solo (or with very few others)

Celebrating solo might not be your usual Thanksgiving plan, but it very well could be this year, particularly if you live far from family. It might not be the most cheerful Thanksgiving you’ll ever have (or maybe it will—no family feuds to combat or politics to talk over dinner), but it doesn’t have to be the worst either. Consider scrapping your traditional menu and making whatever you think sounds good. Conversely, maybe this year, of all years, is when you feel especially attached to your family’s traditional menu—call your relatives and gather some recipes so that you’ll feel at least some things are still the same. Try upping your holiday decor game with new Thanksgiving duds or just scrap that and put up the decor for a holiday you love. Maybe that means a Christmas tree, maybe that means leaving Halloween decor up far longer than usual, or maybe it’s something else entirely. You’re the one there, so you’re the one who gets to make those rules.



If you’re celebrating alone or with just a few additional people and you don’t want to put in the work for a full dinner, consider ordering a restaurant-quality Thanksgiving dinner or opting for your favorite local fare. There’s no rule that you have to eat a certain meal on Thanksgiving, so do what feels best to you and what will make your holiday special. Prop up a computer or phone for holiday FaceTiming or embrace the minimal interactions and plan a self-care day all your own.

The best part of celebrating alone is that it truly gets to be whatever you want it to, so don’t overthink things too much. Plan a day that you’ll enjoy and consider going back to your usual traditions (whatever they may be) next year or the year after.


Whether you’re staying at home or traveling across the country, if you’re getting together with family members or friends, don’t be afraid to ask them what sorts of precautions they’re taking in their everyday life (or, at least, within a few weeks of Thanksgiving), especially if you or someone else there is at greater risk. After all, when it comes to an infectious virus, what you do doesn’t just affect you, it also affects anyone with whom you’re spending time. If you’re planning to spend time with people who are higher risk or older in age, consider taking even more precautions or canceling the event entirely. Determine if the precautions your fellow family members and friends are taking are things you’re comfortable with or not, and don’t be afraid to tell them what you need so that you do feel comfortable. They may or may not agree to those kinds of guidelines, but at least then you’ll be able to feel more confident in your decision to either gather or skip it this year. Hopefully next year, the COVID situation will be different.

There are going to be some really hard choices to make this year. No one wants to have to completely overhaul times often spent with family and friends, particularly if it means that you might end up spending that time alone (no matter how festive that time might be). Ultimately, the best you can do is do your research, have honest conversations with friends and family about what you think is best and what you’re comfortable with, and try to make the choice that feels best and safe for you and those around you.