With the holidays approaching and San Benito County reverting back to stricter guidelines in response to the rise in COVID-19 cases, knowing how to have a safe Thanksgiving gathering is important to prevent sickness and disease spread.
BenitoLink spoke with Public Health Officer David Ghilarducci, who offered tips on how to prepare for a gathering, stay protected while there, and what steps to take afterwards to minimize risk.
Not everyone needs to be tested for COVID-19 before going to a family gathering, though it would be wise to get tested if someone is feeling sick or think they might have come in contact with an infected person.
“The testing does not clear you from being infected if the testing is not done at the right time in your illness,” Ghilarducci said. “You might come back negative, then act under a false sense of being well.”
Be cautious about traveling
San Benito County is at the crossroads of two major thoroughfares, Highways 101 and 152, with traffic coming in from all over the state. This makes the county vulnerable to virus spread.
“We have cases where people have come from other states and have brought the virus back with them,” Ghilarducci said. “The act of traveling itself, particularly air travel, means you are going to come in contact with other people in confined spaces. People coming into California for these gatherings should quarantine for two weeks prior to traveling, as COVID-19 can still spread before an infected person shows symptoms. The biggest problem with this virus is that people can spread it for two or three days before they have symptoms. When you come from out of state, you could be importing the virus and giving it to your family.”
Limit the size of the gathering
State guidelines allow for gatherings of up to three families. “Households are defined as people who usually live together,” Ghilarducci said. “Because they are regularly in contact with each other, they are considered to be a single group or pod. Ideally, gatherings should be families which already spend time together.”
Don’t rely on temperature checks
A person can still be infected with COVID-19 and not have a fever, so it is better to rely on personal protective measures to fight possible infection.
“Temperature checks unfortunately are not very reliable,” Ghilarducci said. “It certainly would not hurt to do it, but I think the most important thing is when people do gather they would not gather in the way they would at a normal Thanksgiving.”
Hold gatherings outdoors if possible
Holding large events indoors where there is insufficient airflow can keep COVID-19 concentrated in a room, adding risk.
“Whenever possible,” Ghilarducci said, “all gatherings should be done outdoors. They can be done indoors in a well-ventilated space that has lots of windows open. But gathering indoors around a big table is risky. And people should not plan for an event lasting more than one hour, two hours at most. Your risk of exposure goes up over time.”
Even with family, face masks are important
While face masks are not usually worn by families at home, when households come together, masks are a good idea.
“During a Thanksgiving event,” Ghilarducci said, “that can be a challenge, especially while you are eating. The best thing is to take the mask off between bites of food then put it back on. And you should leave it on during conversations.”
Children have the potential to be superspreaders
“The interesting thing about kids,” Ghilarducci said, “is that the ones 10 and younger are less likely to become infected. On the other hand, they are notorious for spreading viruses. That is usually how most of these viruses spread. They are also less likely to show symptoms, so it would not be obvious to anybody that the child would be spreading the virus.”
The dinner presentation should be prepared less traditionally
A traditional Thanksgiving dinner, with everyone at a single table passing food around, is not a good idea during the pandemic.
Neither is buffet-style serving, Ghilarducci said, “I would recommend that you have one person, wearing protection, act as server. They would be the ones handling the utensils and doling out the food as individual plates. Leftovers could be handled the same way. When the food is reheated, the virus would be killed. I would be more concerned about the containers and the utensils than the food itself.”
Alcohol can be a hazard
Though drinking itself isn’t the problem, Ghilarducci said it can bring on behavioral changes.
“A glass of wine is not a problem, but with more drinking you might see a loosening of your actions—things like sharing snacks from a common bowl, for example. You do not want to get to a point where you have someone not able to follow precautions.”
What happens after the gathering?
What should people have in mind for the days after? Ghilarducci said, “Anyone who feels any symptoms after a gathering like this should be tested and check with their doctor. Once they get tested, if they are positive, our office gets involved and we call anyone they may have contact with. If someone does get sick, they should advise all the people who attended, and everyone should quarantine for two weeks. With the current situation, anyone who gets sick should be presumed to have COVID until it can be shown that it isn’t.”
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