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Trying to plan a safe Thanksgiving celebration? Here’s what NC DHHS recommends

Reduce the guest list, space out your tables, get a COVID-19 test beforehand, or better yet, connect virtually. That’s some of the guidance the North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services (NC DHHS) is giving to families ahead of the holiday season.

“If you are going to travel or get together, keep it small, keep it outside, wear masks all the time, and consider getting a test ahead of Thanksgiving,” said NC DHHS Secretary Mandy Cohen during a press conference on Nov. 17.

The document below, addressed to K-12 families and staff, includes best practices for safe holiday celebrations and private gatherings. Right now, gatherings of more than 10 people indoors or more than 50 people outdoors are prohibited in North Carolina.

“Even though this means changes to longstanding holiday traditions for many of us, we must remember that there is a light at the end of the tunnel. With our continued dedication, by next Thanksgiving or sooner, this pandemic can be behind us,” said Elizabeth Cuervo Tilson, state health director and chief medical officer with NC DHHS, in the letter below.

This holiday season, NC DHHS asks that people only engage with lower risk or moderate risk activities and avoid high risk activities to prevent the spread of COVID-19.

  • Lower risk activities include having a dinner with only people who live in your household; having a virtual dinner and sharing recipes with friends and family; and preparing traditional recipes for friends and neighborhoods and delivering them in a way that doesn’t involve contact with others.
  • Moderate risk activities include having a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community; attending a small outdoor sports event; and visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where hand sanitizer is available, masks are worn, and people are able to maintain social distancing.
  • High risk activities include attending large indoor gatherings with people from outside of your household or with people who do not practice the 3 W’s (wear, wait, and wash); attending parades; and being a spectator at a crowded race.

If you decide to host or attend a holiday gathering, here are steps that NC DHHS recommends you take to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19.

  • Consider getting testing for COVID-19 three to four days prior to travel or attending family gatherings.
  • Do not host or attend a gathering if you’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or have symptoms.
  • Higher risk guests should consider attending events virtually.
  • Keep the guest list small.
  • Limit your holiday travel and limit physical contact with people who do not live in your household.
  • Seat people who live together at their own table and keep tables at least 6 feet apart from one another.
  • Use single-use options or identify one person to serve food, so that multiple people are not handling the items.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly-touched surfaces such as door handles and sink faucets.
  • Host your gathering outdoors. If that’s not possible, make sure the room is well-ventilated by opening windows and doors.

As always, NC DHHS recommends that everyone wear a cloth face covering, wash their hands, and maintain a distance of 6 feet from those with whom they don’t live. And, if you have been recently diagnosed with COVID-19, have symptoms of COVID-19, or have been around a person with COVID-19, NC DHHS recommends that you do not host or participate in any in-person gatherings until you complete your isolation or quarantine period.

Click here for a social media toolkit that includes images you can share related to safer social gatherings, Thanksgiving celebrations, and Black Friday shopping.

Analisa Sorrells

Analisa Sorrells is a Master in Public Policy candidate at the Harvard Kennedy School and previously worked as chief of staff and associate director of policy for EducationNC.