Handling Thanksgiving safely during a pandemic
November 17, 2020

Joan Hatem-Roy, Chief Executive Officer

Q: Our family is in turmoil over making plans for Thanksgiving. Our adult children haven’t seen us in months, so they are anxious to get together. I have missed them, but I am not sure it would be wise for them to visit. My husband has several chronic conditions and is at a higher risk for contracting COVID. I don’t want to upset my family, but I have to think about my husband and his well-being. How do I handle this?

A: Families all over the country are in a similar situation as yourself. We have missed out on celebrating graduations, birthdays, weddings, and other special events. It is only natural to want to have a “normal” Thanksgiving dinner with loved ones. The problem is we are living under unusual circumstances. What you and every other family need to do is weigh the risks versus the benefit of a family gathering. Keep in mind there is a record surge of the virus across the country, and you don’t want COVID-19 to be the uninvited guest at your table.

For those who are determined to have a family gathering, there are steps to reduce exposure to the virus, according to health professionals. The weather may prevent you from eating outside, but indoor gatherings pose a higher risk for virus transmission. If you do gather indoors, health experts say to limit the number of guests to no more than 10 and increase ventilation by opening windows. People should be seated six feet apart, which may require setting up more than one table. Everyone should wear a mask unless they are eating. Avoid buffets and designate one person to serve the food as this will prevent multiple people from handling utensils. Launder linens and hand towels immediately after dinner. Wash dishes in the dishwasher or hot soapy water by hand as soon as possible.

If any family members are traveling from out of Massachusetts, please check state and local regulations regarding visitors from other states. Quarantine requirements may not make the trip feasible if time is limited.

Another option is to have a virtual meal with family members and close friends. While you won’t be together physically, you can have meaningful conversations and make the day special.

Think about sharing recipes ahead of time so no one would miss out on those special dishes. You might share a toast with everyone, designate someone to lead the blessing or have each person express something for which they are grateful.

Are you struggling to care for an older adult or having difficulty locating resources? Our experienced staff is available to help. Visit us online at for more information. You can also call us at 1-800-892-0890 or email Joan Hatem-Roy is the Chief Executive Officer of Elder Services of Merrimack Valley and North Shore.

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