CDC says cancel Thanksgiving travel - and what to do if you can't

Thanksgiving 2020 is coming, but Americans should stay home and avoid travel or gatherings outside of their immediate family, according to the CDC this week. The stark COVID-19 warning came as deaths from the pandemic neared 250,000, with cases rising rapidly and experts cautioning that even with potential vaccines in the pipeline, the end of coronavirus is not yet in sight.

Indeed, the new CDC guidelines for Thanksgiving pour some common-sense onto any ambitions of a "normal" family get-together this year. "Amid this critical phase of the COVID-19 pandemic, CDC is recommending against travel during the Thanksgiving holiday," the agency said this week.

With many families used to travel across the US in order to reunite for Thanksgiving, the US Centers for Disease Control warned that it may increase the chances of getting, and spreading, COVID-19. "It's important to talk with the people you live with and your family and friends about the risks of traveling for Thanksgiving," the agency said. That includes doing your homework about where you might be going, and how you're getting there.

If cases are high, or increasing, in either your current location or your destination, that could be a reason to stay home, for example. Hospital load in those locations is also a significant factor. If you're traveling by bus, train, or plane, that could make maintaining six feet of social distancing a challenge.

"We ask Americans to consider their risk," Dr Henry Walke, incident manager for the CDC's COVID-19 response, said on a briefing call, "to consider who is in their household, their individual risk of acquiring infection, their community risk from their own community and community which they're traveling to, how they may be able to take infection from one place to the other."

The CDC is "alarmed," Walke continued, by the exponential rise in coronavirus cases and deaths. Anybody with signs or symptoms of infection are "strongly recommended" not to travel, and to instead quarantine and isolate.

Part of the issue is the definition of "a member of your household" when planning for gatherings. While college students may be immediate family, for example, the CDC's definition of outside of the household means someone who has not lived in the home for 14 days before a Thanksgiving gathering is held. Instead, they should be considered under the same recommendations for overnight guests.

If you do have an in-person Thanksgiving gathering, the CDC's advice is to have a small, outdoor meal if possible, with a limited number of guests. All surfaces should be frequently cleaned and disinfected, and guests should preferably bring their own food and drink. If food is shared, one person should be responsible for serving, and it's better to use single-use and disposable options like plastic utensils, paper plates, and condiment packets.

If you're celebrating indoors, opening as many doors and windows is advised. "You can use a window fan in one of the open windows to blow air out of the window," the CDC suggests. "This will pull fresh air in through the other open windows."

Everyone should wear masks, with at least two layers, and ensure it covers both nose and mouth and fits snugly against the sides of the face. It should also be stored safely while you're eating: the CDC recommends temporary storage of dry masks in a paper or mesh fabric bag, to clean hands after touching it, and to make sure when you put it back on that it's the same side facing out again.

"There is reason for hope. We are all excited about the news regarding a vaccine, but it's not here yet," the CDC acknowledged. "When it does arrive, the mitigation steps will still be equally important in protecting ourselves, our loved ones, and our fellow citizens."