How to Host a Safe, Socially Distanced Thanksgiving
Consider celebrating virtually with family and friends; otherwise, follow our experts' advice.
The ongoing coronavirus pandemic has changed a lot—including the holidays. Unfortunately, according to health experts, there isn't a way to host a completely "safe" Thanksgiving dinner in the traditional sense this year. But if you're intent on hosting this holiday season, there are things you can do to mitigate any risks taken—by you and your guests—when celebrating together on November 26.
Here, experts say, is how to host a safe, socially distanced Thanksgiving.
Consider going virtual.
The safest thing you can do is to host Thanksgiving virtually, says Dr. Amber Noon, M.D., an infectious disease specialist. That's especially true if guests are immune-compromised or would have to travel from out of town to attend, she says. "Even if grandparents are perfectly healthy, our immune systems change with age," Dr. Noon warns, explaining that our T cells—or the cells that come to our defense in the days after we've encountered a virus—are slower to react and engage as we age. "I strongly encourage hosts to 'set a seat' for your grandmother using a computer monitor and have her join the party via Zoom or Facetime," says Dr. Noon.
But a digital fête doesn't have to be drab: Anne R. Kokoskie, event design consultant at Styled by ARK, encourages you to create a stylish invitation to send to guests. Then, on the invitation, ask guests to not only RSVP but to also share a recipe that everyone could make for dinner. (As the organizer, you can send each recipe to your guests via email.) "The intention is to create a meal that is a collection of all who will not be together in person but in spirit," explains Kokoskie.
Choose your location carefully.
If you're planning an in-person dinner, Dr. Noon says you will need to pay close attention to where you host your guests. The virus that causes COVID-19 can be spread through tiny aerosol particles released from our mouths and noses, and they are "in even greater supply when we talk, laugh, and sing—all components of a traditional holiday gathering," Dr. Noon says. These droplets can linger for as long as three hours. That's why Dr. Noon encourages you to host your dinner outdoors if possible. "Because fresh air is continuously moving and can disperse infected droplets, taking the party outdoors is the safest way to enjoy the holiday this year," Dr. Noon explains, adding that, "while this may be challenging in colder climates, the added safety is worth getting creative."
Get together the right guest list.
By limiting your guests to those who live in the same community, you're keeping everyone as safe as possible, says Dr. Noon. "Once you start inviting friends and family from outside your community, the risk begins to go up—particularly if they're coming from a hot spot." Dr. Noon also recommends keeping your total guest count to 10 people are fewer, regardless of where they call home.
With fewer guests, you can afford to space people out more. "If you have the room, set up the tables to be by family to limit the number of guests [who would be] sitting with someone they don't know," says Melanie Tindell, owner and event planner of Oak + Honey Event Planning Co.
Thoroughly clean—before and after.
To be safe, Dr. Noon explains that a deeper clean is critical. High-touch surfaces such as doorknobs, bathroom countertops, toilet lids and handles, and faucets should be given extra attention. "I would also clean those same areas after your guests have left," Dr. Noon says. And if you notice guests using the bathroom often throughout the evening, then you should wipe those down periodically rather than waiting until everyone leaves, Dr. Noon suggests.
Consider serving style.
If you planned on plating all the food yourself, Dr. Noon encourages you to think again: "Consider a buffet," she says, "and ask that people serve themselves food and drink independently, one at a time." Use disposable plates, utensils, and napkins or ask guests to bring their own place settings. In addition to asking guests to get up for food one person at a time, you should also instruct everyone to wear masks while serving themselves and to sanitize their hands prior to touching any serving utensils. It might feel like a lot, but it's being done in an effort to keep everyone safe. "You may also want to consider asking them to take everything they've used home for washing because of the pandemic," she says. (You can set up a trash can for them to scrape their dishes.)
Cocktails can also be served buffet-style, Tindell says. She recommends setting up a make-it-yourself cocktail station, complete with prepped ingredients, plus disposable cups and stirrers.