November 16, 2020

With COVID-19 continuing to spread here in Chicagoland and across the country, millions of people find themselves wondering about the best way to have a safe, healthy, and fulfilling Thanksgiving this year. Is it safe to see friends and family? If so, what are the best ways to travel home or welcome company? Should you start thinking of alternative plans and ways to celebrate for 2020? 

This is sure to be a Thanksgiving like no other. If you are the caregiver of an elderly adult, or are debating whether or not you should spend the holiday with your aging parents or grandparents, you’re sure to have questions — and there are no easy answers. Ultimately, it’s all about deciding what you’re comfortable with, and taking the right precautions for yourself and your family. 

Let’s see if Chicago’s home care experts can help give you some clarity! Below, we’ve collected expert safety guidance for Thanksgiving in the era of COVID — including assessing your risk, best practices for travel, and how to celebrate if your traditional plans need to go on hold. 

Assessing the Risk: Should You Host or Attend Thanksgiving During COVID?

Seniors are at particularly high risk for COVID-19. According to CDC data, people 65 years and older are at higher risk for getting a severe case of COVID-19, and “about 80% of deaths in the U.S. from COVID-19 have been of people in this age group,” according to NPR. 

It’s important to be mindful of the unique health challenges that you and your loved ones face. In addition to advanced age, COVID can be particularly dangerous for those with preexisting conditions, such as asthma or high blood pressure. 

If you have any concerns about putting someone at risk, it may be better to err on the safe side and avoid seeing them in person this year. The CDC encourages people who are at increased risk for severe illness to avoid in-person gatherings with people outside of their household; similarly, if you have COVID-19, have any symptoms of COVID, or may have been exposed in the last 14 days, the CDC advises that you “not host or participate in any in-person festivities.”

With that said, it’s also important to remember to be safe and realistic. For instance, if everyone in your family has been diligent about mask wearing and quarantining before seeing other people, that may significantly lower the risk of spread. Similarly, if you live next door to your aging parents, it is much easier to see each other safely than if you live on opposite ends of the country.

Bottom line? According to the CDC, having “a small dinner with only people who live in your household” is a lower risk activity. When staying home to protect yourself and others, you can still stay connected by having a virtual dinner and sharing recipes with friends and family, or watching sports and movies from the comfort of your living room. 

Making Shared Meals and Gatherings Safer

When you do gather with others, take precautions to ensure a safer gathering. Here are some important guidelines from the CDC:

  • Host outdoor activities rather than indoor activities as much as possible. If you do need to be indoors, try to keep the space as well-ventilated as possible. 
  • Limit the number of attendees as much as possible.
  • Stock up on supplies, including extra masks, hand sanitizer, and tissues.
  • Try to maintain a distance of at least six feet from people you don’t live with.
  • Wear a mask at all times when around people who don’t live in your household to reduce the risk of spreading the virus. (“I know it’s very awkward, but that’s going to be the way you can keep your family and the other family safe,” explains Dr. Tina Tan, pediatric infectious disease specialist at the Ann and Robert H. Lurie Children’s Hospital of Chicago)
  • Try to quarantine for at least 14 days before seeing others. 
  • Regularly clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces 
  • Avoid using shared items, and clean them between use if feasible. Encourage everyone to bring their own dishes or supply single-use products. 
  • Limit the amount of people handling food. Make sure the chef wears a mask, and designate one or two people to serve all the food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils.
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, particularly before and after you prepare, serve, and eat food; you can use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol when soap and water aren’t available. 
  • After the celebration, avoid seeing others and get tested to help minimize the risk of transmitting COVID in your community. 

Over the River and Through the Woods: Safe Travel Tips During COVID

Holiday travel can be stressful even under the best of circumstances. It can be particularly uncertain right now. 

However you plan to travel, be sure to check for travel restrictions in the area that you’re planning to visit — even if it’s just over state lines. As the CDC puts it: 

“State, local, and territorial governments may have travel restrictions in place, including testing requirements, stay-at-home orders, and quarantine requirements upon arrival. Follow state, local, and territorial travel restrictions.”

For example, people coming to Chicago are meant to quarantine for two weeks if traveling from a number of coronavirus hotspots. Other cities and states have similar restrictions and guidelines in place. 

Meanwhile, be sure to check coronavirus transmission trends in the area that you’re planning to visit, and where you’re coming from. If cases are spiking, it may be safer to avoid travel altogether, since “travel increases the chance of getting and spreading the virus that causes COVID-19,” as the CDC explains. 

If you are planning to visit family, one of the safest ways to travel this year may be to take the car. If you’re planning to travel with an elderly loved one, be sure to check out our guide for making road trips safe and comfortable for seniors. 

To minimize the threat of COVID, “do anything you can to limit your exposure,” explains Dr. Ravina Kullar, an epidemiologist and spokesperson for the Infectious Diseases Society of America. For example, Dr. Kullar advises putting on gloves and using hand sanitizer if you have to fill up the gas tank, and wearing a mask when making any stops. Avoid unnecessary pit stops, bring your own food rather than eating at restaurants, and regularly wash your hands. You can find the CDC’s full guide for safe car travel here. 

If you are planning to fly, be mindful when choosing seats and navigating the airport. As the CDC puts it: 

“Most viruses and other germs do not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes. However, social distancing is difficult on crowded flights, and sitting within 6 feet of others, sometimes for hours, may increase your risk of getting COVID-19.”

Wear a mask for the entire duration of your flight, and look for planes that are spacing out travelers. At the airport, maintain a safe distance from other travelers, wear a mask, and regularly wash your hands. You can find more information from the CDC here. 

Can’t Be Together In Person? There Are Still Lots of Ways to Get In the Thanksgiving Spirit 

Ultimately, many people are going to spend Thanksgiving apart this year — but that doesn’t have to mean spending Thanksgiving alone! There are still lots of ways to spread holiday cheer and make sure your elderly loved ones are able to enjoy a fulfilling, fun day. Here are a few ideas:

Want to Talk More About Home Care During COVID? We’re Here for You

If you believe that you or an elderly loved one may benefit from the assistance of a professional companion during this unusual holiday season, don’t hesitate to get in touch with Companions for Seniors.

Our professional caregivers can help provide Chicago’s aging adults with the support they need to live a more full, independent, and active life — while making sure they stay safe and healthy, at every step of the way.

Locally owned and operated in the Chicago area, Companions for Seniors helps provide seniors with a higher quality of life, while also offering respite and peace of mind for family caregivers who might need some support. Our companions help stimulate our clients physically, mentally, emotionally, and spiritually, empowering them to live an active and enriched lifestyle.

Ready to keep the conversation going? Get in touch online or give us a call at 866-910-9020 today!

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