The CDC has more advice on how to stay safe this Thanksgiving. Klaus Vedfelt/Getty Images
  • COVID-19 cases continue to rise to record levels in the United States.
  • The number one way to stay safe during Thanksgiving is to restrict all travel.
  • Other tips include staying outside and not mixing many households.

As we head into the holiday season, the United States continues to see a record-breaking number of COVID-19 cases.

With the Thanksgiving holiday this week, experts fear gatherings will only compound the pandemic that is straining hospitals.

Despite these increasing numbers, the Transportation Security Administration noted that more than 1 million travelers passed through U.S. airport security checkpoints on the Friday before Thanksgiving.

According to The New York Times, the number of total COVID-19 cases has increased 54 percent in the United States over the past 14 days. Over the past week, there has been an average of 171,376 cases per day.

With so many Americans planning to travel for Thanksgiving, how can we plan to have a safe holiday, especially with respect to the newest guidelines from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC)?

Don’t travel during Thanksgiving

The number one way to stay safe during Thanksgiving is to restrict all travel.

According to the CDC, “Travel may increase your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year.”

“The reason to avoid travel is to risk spreading COVID-19 from a public health standpoint,” said Dr. Scott Weisenberg, medical director of the Travel Medicine Program at NYU Langone Health. “From an individual standpoint, with the disease being so prevalent, the odds of someone having it and being asymptomatic [are] much higher now.”

Weisenberg adds that many people have relaxed stringent social distancing and mask wearing, which means cases have increased.

“The most conservative plan [to avoid transmission] is to not go or see anyone who is not part of your regular household,” he said.

If you are still planning to travel during Thanksgiving

Some people will travel this Thanksgiving for a variety of reasons, even though experts strenuously advise staying home. If you do plan to attend a gathering it is important to understand how to do it as safely as possible.

If you are considering traveling for Thanksgiving, there are crucial questions to ask before you head out, says the CDC:

  • Are you, someone in your household, or someone you will be visiting at increased risk for getting very sick from COVID-19?
  • Are cases high or increasing in your community or your destination? Check the CDC’s COVID Data Tracker for the latest number of cases.
  • Are hospitals in your community or your destination overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19? To find out, check state and local public health department websites.
  • Does your home or destination have requirements or restrictions for travelers? Check state and local requirements before you travel.
  • During the 14 days before your travel, have you or those you are visiting had close contact with people they don’t live with?
  • Do your plans include traveling by bus, train, or air, which might make staying 6 feet apart difficult?
  • Are you traveling with people who don’t live with you?

If you answer yes to any of these questions, the CDC urges against travel.

“I want to highlight that a lot of people don’t realize that if they have been exposed to people who have COVID-19 and are waiting for test results within that time frame, they should not be traveling, and they should not be gathering in a crowd,” adds Dr. Ting Ting Wong, a primary care physician and infectious disease specialist with NewYork-Presbyterian Medical Group in Brooklyn. “This is the gap period where while they’re waiting they may be the transmitter.”

We’re in the final few days before Thanksgiving, so it is important to consider the choices you’ve made over the last 14 days. Many travelers are opting to get tested in the days prior to Thanksgiving, which is good in intent, but not 100 percent effective.

“If you go to an indoor restaurant tonight and unknowingly pick up COVID-19, you won’t be infectious until [5 or 6 days from now],” said Weisenberg. “Tests are not perfect. A day or two beforehand doesn’t mean you’re not incubating the virus. It reduces the risk you’re carrying it, but you may still be negative on those tests until about 2 days before you’re showing symptoms.”

Is there a way to travel for Thanksgiving safely?

“Absolutely,” says Wong. Assuming the answers to the CDC questions are no, that is. 

Staying outdoors is vital to staying safe, Wong says. “If you are able to celebrate in an outdoor space where the ventilation is excellent and the droplets can be easily diffused, then this will bring risk of contracting to a much lower level.”

In addition, she recommends constant handwashing and wiping down all surfaces with at least 60 percent alcohol. Other recommendations include:

  • using disposable serving utensils
  • avoiding buffet-style eating
  • bringing your own food if possible
  • serving food in individually packed containers

“We’re all COVID fatigued,” Wong added. “It’s a real thing. A lot of people are letting their guards down. But the number of cases is rising, and if we don’t continue to be global citizens, the number is only going to go up.”