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How to safely enjoy Thanksgiving during the Coronavirus

For tens of millions of Americans, the holiday used to mean traveling to be with their family for a cozy gathering and an elaborate Thanksgiving dinner. But with the COVID-19 pandemic and continued rising numbers throughout the metro St. Louis area, many families are re-thinking their Thanksgiving holiday plans.

Even kids coming home from college pose a potential risk to those at home. Some families are telling their children to get tested before returning to assure they're okay. If you're having extended family over, whether from out of town or not, you might ask the same of them just to be sure your gathering is as safe as can be for everyone involved.

Unfortunately, if you're going to interact with people, there's no way to eliminate the possibility of being infected by the novel coronavirus, in or outside your home, But there are steps you can take to mitigate your risk thisThanksgiving.

Health experts recommend these seven strategies to enjoy a safer Thanksgiving during the pandemic:

1. Consider a remote gathering. As much as you want to get together in real life with far-flung or nearby loved ones, seeing them on a laptop screen instead would be safer", says Dr. Benjamin Singer, a pulmonary and critical care specialist at Northwestern Memorial Hospital in Chicago. "While it's unusual, the safest Thanksgiving dinner may be remote, with households each having their own celebrations and connecting with each other via technology," Singer says. Make sure everyone has a laptop or a cellphone and knows how to get into a Zoom meeting.

2. Weather permitting, host an outdoor gathering. When it comes to avoiding the new virus, outdoor activities are far safer than being indoors. If you're doing an outdoor gathering, follow all the usual guidance for slowing the spread of the virus. That means maintaining social distance and wearing a mask. Set up socially distanced chairs and tables. If the weather permits, games like Frisbee, cornhole or pickleball are naturally socially distanced. Just remember to keep your hands away from your face and to use hand sanitizer before and after playing.

3. Keep gatherings small. The White House's coronavirus task force has issued guidance to avoid gatherings of 10 or more people. The bigger the crowd, the higher the risk, particularly if any of the attendees are from a state with spiking cases of the new virus - which currently includes both Missouri and Illinois.

4. Follow basic coronavirus safety precautions. Whether you attend an indoor or outdoor Thanksgiving gathering, wear a mask, maintain social distancing, don't touch your face and wash your hands.

5. Avoid buffet-style meals. Some families typically set out a buffet for Thanksgiving. That's not a great idea. People often stand close to each other when going down the line to get food buffet-style. Consider designating one person to do the serving while practicing social distancing. If you do have a buffet – with food set on a table or island for people to serve themselves – spread the dishes out to give people more room as they serve themselves.

6. Check in on older family members. This Thanksgiving in particular, it's important that people don't forget about their family members who live in senior housing facilities or are sheltering in place for health reasons. Give them a call or set up a Zoom meeting - and make them a part of your gathering, even if it's from a distance.

7. Shop for Black Friday deals online. Going to the mall to scout for Black Friday deals the day after Thanksgiving is almost as much a tradition as the meal. But this year, shopping should be done primarily online to avoid large droves of people at the mall. If you decide to shop in person, try to shop during hours when there are fewer people in the stores.