How to gather for Thanksgiving (somewhat) safely

Festive Thanksgiving table arrangement
Rethink the usual Thanksgiving celebration this year as COVID-19 surges.
(Alexander Raths /

Can’t give up the turkey tradition? Then keep your gathering small, ventilated and brief.

So you’re going to do a Thanksgiving gathering anyway, despite the calls for hunkering down at home?

Then here are some tips to stay as safe as possible while still following public health guidance. Mask wearing, hand sanitizing and social distancing are already a given.

Keep it small

Under state public health guidance, gatherings must be limited to no more than three households, even if outdoors.

The smaller, the better.

Gather outdoors

Gathering with other households indoors is prohibited under the most restrictive, “purple” tier state rules affecting San Diego County.

Research has shown that the coronavirus is easily spread through respiratory droplets or smaller aerosols, which makes indoor gatherings a riskier proposition, especially when the ventilation is poor. The risk is lessened when people can space apart better outdoors and the breeze can carry the virus’ particles away.

Set up tables to keep separate households socially distanced.

Talk about risk and rules early

Beforehand, ask about where each person has been and how recently, to better understand the risk. The average incubation period is 5.7 days, meaning that people who are infected may not yet be showing symptoms such as a fever or a cough — and many may never show any signs that they have the virus in their bodies even though they can spread it to others.

Set ground rules and make sure everyone agrees them before the gathering, not as they arrive.

Being explicit about expectations leaves less room for negotiation and also makes it easier to gently ask a companion to comply if the rules are broken.

Plan out dinner

Coordinating a Thanksgiving meal is already a well-timed dance, but it should be even more so this year.

The CDC advises every household bring their own meal, drinks and dinnerware. If you must do a potluck, make sure that everyone isn’t crammed into the same stuffy kitchen cooking or reheating at the same time.

Designate one person, who wears a mask and gloves, to serve the food. Consider using disposable dinnerware.

Limit your time together

The marathon social hour, dinner, football game and walk should be nixed this year in favor of a two-hour gathering.

The less time people spend together, the less risk there is of spreading the virus. A briefer gathering may also help limit alcohol consumption, which lowers inhibitions and leads to masks coming off — and staying off.

Also, avoid attending multiple events and mixing with even more households.

Don’t let your guard down over a negative test

Testing offers some peace of mind, but it is also just a snapshot in time. The test you took Monday that came back negative on Wednesday just tells you that you were likely negative on Monday.

Plus, tests aren’t completely accurate. A rapid test can produce a negative result when someone is in the early stages of COVID-19 before symptoms begin to appear.

Source: CDC, San Diego County Department of Public Health, Union-Tribune reporting