How to gather safely this Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving dinner

November 16, 2021 – The top three ways to stay safe from COVID-19 if you’re gathering indoors with family and friends this Thanksgiving are to be vaccinated, to make sure the space is ventilated, and to take a rapid test the morning of the holiday, according to Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health’s Stephen Kissler.

Overall, it’s important for people to be mindful of the level of disease spread in the town or city where they’ll spend Thanksgiving, given the wide variation across the U.S., said Kissler, research fellow in the Department of Immunology and Infectious Diseases. And small gatherings are generally safer than big ones, he said.

But the availability of vaccines “has really changed the game a lot,” he said. “The most important thing is to be vaccinated. It’s the best defense we have against COVID-19.”

Stephen Kissler
Stephen Kissler

Ventilation is also crucial. “I can’t stress it enough, especially for large family gatherings,” he said. “If there’s any possibility of opening a couple of windows by about six inches and cracking open a door, that can really go a long way toward preventing virus from building up in the indoor air. Even better if you have a fan blowing. It can reduce the risk of a superspreading event.”

After vaccination and ventilation, testing should be the next layer of defense, Kissler said. He said it’s better to opt for a rapid test than a PCR test.

“The tricky thing with PCR tests is that there’s usually a couple of days turnaround to get the result, and the turnaround could get even longer around Thanksgiving, when there’s a lot of demand,” he said. The longer it takes to get results, the less valuable the results are, because they would only be telling you your infection status on the day you took the test—not on Thanksgiving Day. But by taking a rapid test, you can determine if you’re infectious shortly before the holiday gathering. “A rapid test will pick up if you’re producing virus,” he said.

What about distancing and masking? Both are important mitigation strategies, Kissler said. But on Thanksgiving, when people gather to eat and drink together, the availability of other measures should go a long way toward reducing risk. “Distancing and masking can make things feel unusual and strange and forced,” he said. “Being vaccinated, opening the windows, and taking a rapid test beforehand are all things that can allow us to be with one another in a pretty normal way.”

Karen Feldscher

Feature photo: iStock