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Utah doctors warn against Thanksgiving family gatherings, offer up alternatives

Posted at 11:15 PM, Nov 18, 2020

SALT LAKE CITY — With Thanksgiving a week away, Utah doctors are urging people to skip family gatherings and stay home this year.

They explain this doesn't have to mean Turkey Day is canceled-- it just means people need to get creative in how they celebrate and spend time with loved ones.

Dr. Andy Pavia, Chief of the Division of Pediatric Infectious Diseases at University of Utah Health, explained that he understands this year has been lonely and hard for mental health.

"We can't deal with it in the usual way of getting together and ignoring safety," he said. "Because if we do that, we're trading one set of risks for another."

It's those unmasked situations with close family and friends, he and other doctors said, that pose a significant risk of COVID-19 transmission.

"Some people have said you know, 'Gather at Thanksgiving and re-gather for your funeral on New Year's Day,'" Dr. Pavia said. "And that's a bleak way to put it, but at this point we really have to be honest."

So, can one still enjoy Thanksgiving with extended family safely?

It's possible, the U of U Health doctors indicated, depending on your approach.

"That means things like Zoom calls, that means like outdoor visiting, that means like enjoying walks together," Dr. Pavia listed off. "Things that can be done safely."

He mentioned that anyone seeing each other indoors should keep windows open, masks on and stay at least six feet apart.

Dr. Emily Spivak, Associate Professor at the Division of Infectious Diseases at U of U Health, added that it's okay to visit with a person inside for a couple minutes with a mask on.

However, they recommended against any type of in-person visit with an elderly family member, or anyone who is sick or immunocompromised.

For anyone who continues to choose to host or attend a Thanksgiving gathering with those outside their own household, Dr. Carlos Gomez, Associate Professor at the Division of Infectious Diseases, suggested that a two-week quarantine beforehand would lower the risk.

They said people need to cook food with a mask on, and do not share utensils for dishing up food.

The doctors recommended against passing the plate at the table or serving food buffet-style. They suggested not sitting at a traditional table but instead far away from each other.

Everyone should be wearing masks inside, and keeping their social distance-- no hugs with relatives, they said.

They emphasized treating a family visit like going to the grocery store, where wearing a mask and keeping distance is the norm to lower the risk of transmission.

While Thanksgiving certainly won't look the same this year, the doctors described how staying safe now, will pay off later.

"There feels like there's light at the end of the tunnel," Dr. Spivak said, referencing the likelihood that a vaccine will become available soon. "Let's really try and be careful until then."