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5 Safe Ways to Share Gratitude, Not COVID, This Thanksgiving

Please note: The content of this article was accurate on the day of publication. For the most up-to-date information and recommendations, visit the CDC website.

Sharing in gratitude and sitting down for a big meal may be the crux of Thanksgiving, but it could prove to be more challenging this year. Thanksgiving is typically a time to gather with loved ones, but one uninvited guest you may not want is COVID-19.

“Gathering with a large group outside of your immediate household for extended periods of time places you at higher risk of COVID-19 infection,” said Helen Arnold, RN, an infection prevention specialist at Banner Desert Medical Center and Banner Children's at Desert in Mesa, AZ.. “In turn, you could spread the infection to others.”

That’s why this year, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued guidelines for celebrating the holiday during the COVID-19 pandemic that may mean you’ll have to put the kibosh on some of your annual Thanksgiving traditions—such as large gatherings, football games, parades and Black Friday shopping.

A New Spin on Thanksgiving

Just because Thanksgiving won’t be like it was in years past, doesn’t mean your turkey day has to be a snore—and that’s not the tryptophan talking. Following CDC recommendations, we’ve put together some safer ways to celebrate Thanksgiving along with additional tips for some of your other family traditions.

1. Consider a Small Family Dinner

This year consider keeping things simple with having a small dinner at home with members of your household. Make a small turkey and a couple sides or order out from a local restaurant. Instead of dressing up, consider jeans or pjs. Then gather around the table together, enjoy some delicious food and take the time to celebrate one another and give thanks.

First-Turkey-Timers Club? If it’s the first time you are taking a stab at roasting a turkey and all the fixings, have no fear. Here are some food safety tips so you can ensure a delicious and safe meal this Thanksgiving.

2. Participate in an Outdoor Food Swap

Do you have your aunt’s sweet potato casserole recipe you’ve been waiting to make all year? This could be the perfect time to try it out and share with others with an outdoor food swap. To do this:

  • Gather together (virtually, of course!) and assign every family member, friend or neighbor a side dish.
  • Prepare and package the dish in separate food storage containers to share.
  • Schedule a drop-off or exchange outdoors so everyone can collect the prepared dishes.
  • Take containers home, wipe them down with antibacterial wipes and wash hands before reheating and sharing with your family. While there is no evidence that the virus spreads to people through food, it is important to remember food safety and safe food handling.
  • For loved ones who can’t leave their homes or who are at higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, consider picking up and delivering meals to their homes in a way that doesn’t involve contact with others.
3. Celebrate Virtually

Since travel increases the chance of COVID-19 transmission, celebrate virtually and share recipes with friends and family as a way to celebrate the holiday even if you’re miles apart. Set up your computer, tablet or phone at the table and share a meal together as if you were there in person.

4. Have a Small Outdoor Dinner (if weather permits, of course!)

If you live in an area where the weather is generally mild this time of year, then going outdoors with a small group for a Thanksgiving meal is a moderate risk, as long as you follow these CDC recommendations:

  • Set up tables outdoors with plenty of distance between them
  • Sit immediate households together at tables so there is no comingling with other household units
  • Do not attend if you or a member of your household is sick
  • Pre-plate food by designated individuals who are masked to avoid cross-contamination of serving utensils
  • When engaging with others outside of the dinner portion in close proximity, make sure everyone is masked at all times

For more tips for hosting outdoors, read the following recommendations from the CDC.

5. Rethinking Other Traditions

Food may take up a bulk of Thanksgiving, but there are other popular traditions that occur on this one Thursday in November. And many of them are higher risk. Here are some ways to rethink them.

Backyard Football

  • High-Risk: Playing a game of football with your extended family and friends
  • Low-Risk Alternative: Play a game of football with members of your household

Black Friday Shopping

  • High-Risk: Shopping deals in crowded stores just before, on or after Thanksgiving
  • Low-Risk Alternative: Shop online or wait for Cyber Monday deals

Parades and Sporting Events

  • High-Risk: Watching in person as a spectator
  • Low-Risk Alternative: Watch on TV or virtually with friends and family


  • High-Risk: Going to the movies
  • Low-Risk Alternative: Find a movie On-Demand and watch from the comfort of your couch


Let’s face it: None of our favorite holidays will be the same this year, but you can certainly make the best of them with these safe alternatives. They may even add new meaning to your holiday.

Ultimately, the decision to participate in risky or safer Thanksgiving activities is a personal one, but remember to follow CDC guidelines to help ensure you and your loved ones are safe during this uncertain time. If you have questions or concerns, contact your health care provider to discuss your personal risk and any additional preventive measures.

“And remember, whatever way you choose to celebrate this year, don’t forget to wash your hands,” Arnold said.

For more information regarding COVID-19, visit

Infectious Disease COVID-19 Safety Wellness