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The Safest Way to Do Thanksgiving This Year Is to Cancel It

Do not kill your family over turkey.

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On Wednesday, November 19 — just eight days before Thanksgiving — the Centers for Disease Control (CDC) held a conference call with reporters and urged American families not to travel for Thanksgiving. Dr. Henry Walke, who works for the CDC, said on the call: “CDC is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving Day period,” citing the explosion of COVID-19 cases across the country and the risk that travel could bring the virus from one part of the country to another. In short, the safest way to do Thanksgiving this year is to cancel it.

The CDC decided to make this call just over a week before turkey day because of the record-shattering past few weeks of positive COVID-19 cases, in which over a million new cases have been diagnosed across the country in the past week alone. With 250,000 people dead, the fall looks like it will be a deadly season for COVID-19. And it is for that reason that we say: if you have people traveling to you this Thanksgiving, it’s time to cancel your big family dinner, if you haven’t already. 

This wave of COVID-19 has no epicenter at all, which means that cases are pervasive across the country, from the smallest towns to the biggest cities. Hospitals across the country, which in the last wave were able to transfer patients to hospitals in cities that weren’t hit as hard, are overwhelmed across the board.

ICUs are full, morgue trucks sit outside of hospitals. In less than a year of the pandemic, over 11.5 million people have been diagnosed with the disease. 1,000,000 of those are children, but many more are young adults, old adults, grandma, grandma, parents.

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It would be one thing if the cases were slow, or if positivity rates were stable, or if local governments had taken charge and shut down leisure aspects of the economy and enforced mask mandates. But instead, the cases keep rising, and people keep dying. Thanksgiving turkey is just not one of those things worth dying over. 

Obviously, there’s no point in throwing the turkey out with the pandemic-tainted bathwater. You can still have a delicious, small Thanksgiving dinner with your household — the people you live with — which brings no risk to your or your family. But the 10, 20 people family gatherings in which cousins from far-flung cities and grandpas and grandmas and people from all different households gather inside around the TV to watch the Cowboys lose again? That can’t happen. Sorry.

Just take a look at the COVID risk assessment graphs that show that in some areas, having a gathering of 10 people has a 20% chance of one of the attendees having COVID-19. Think about this: 40 percent of COVID cases are asymptomatic. An asymptomatic or presymptomatic guest can easily pass that along to anyone at the gathering, who could pass that along to any number of dozens of people, leading to a superspreader event that could put people who didn’t even sit down next to you to eat turkey in the hospital to die. 

Walke, on the CDC call with reporters, was not so effusive. “What is at stake is the increased chance of one of your loved ones becoming sick and then being hospitalized and dying around the holidays,” he said.

The CDC recognizes it can’t stop people from celebrating Thanksgiving and notes that if you are going to see people who don’t live with you, you should have started quarantining last week to do so without causing a superspreader event.

If you are going to take the risk of seeing someone during one of the biggest outbreaks of COVID so far for turkey, wear masks, stay outside, keep distance from others, and sit at separate tables. But please, don’t put your life, or the lives of your loved ones, or ultimately, the lives of strangers at risk by needing to sit inside or by hugging your loved ones or by ignoring all pandemic safety rules just because you’re tired of it. There has been too much loss already.