Planning a Covid Thanksgiving

Some initial thoughts on a complicated event

(Photo from Benton’s Smoky Mountain Country Ham)

Thanksgiving, under any circumstances, is complicated. Unlike many other American holidays Thanksgiving is a destination event, where people travel from all over to connect with friends and family over a meal that has been hugely glorified by the food media. Whatever pressure you might feel about preparing food for others is amplified, and the stakes are without question higher.

And, of course, there’s this Thanksgiving. The Covid Thanksgiving. The Thanksgiving immediately following the single most consequential political election in the history of the United States of America. The Thanksgiving that makes you wonder, ‘Can I even ask people if they want to come over? Is it safe? Is it responsible? Am I even going to make it to Thanksgiving without having a massive, stress-induced aneurism?’

The answer to all of these things is…maybe. Inviting a large group of people over to your house is obviously asking for Covid-transmission. Indoor dining spreads Covid. Gathering together large groups of people spreads Covid. Large indoor meals with multiple cross-conversations and raised voices definitely spreads Covid.

We’ve decided to host Thanksgiving this year, and we’re still figuring out how to handle this. As far as we can determine the single most effective method of keeping safe, short of a true two-week quarantine leading up to the event, is utilizing rapid testing. But even in New York City, where the infection rate is pretty much at or below 1% (in aggregate), rapid testing isn’t easy to find, isn’t cheap, and still isn’t reliable. And asking people to quarantine feels impossible; we’ve come to learn that all of our friends have different criteria for what it means to be “Covid safe”, and that ranges from “I didn’t leave my house for a week” to “I only go to the grocery store twice a day.”

Lacking better tools, our plan for now is as follows:

  1. Require guests get a rapid Covid test with over 90% reliability so that they will receive their results at least 24 hours before the day of Thanksgiving.

  2. Ask guests to quarantine between having the test, and the day of the event. This likely means a quarantine of approximately 1-2 days, as it allows for the test results to come in later than promised (which seems like a good bet) but doesn’t require people to quarantine for so long that they’ll go crazy.

  3. Don’t let anyone in who hasn’t been tested.

  4. Hope our friends aren’t out there tongue kissing strangers and licking subway poles. (Admittedly, it seems unlikely.)

And beyond that…we really don’t know. Just gathering people together is basically an act of faith, and you really rely on people being on the same page as you, and being honest and insightful about their behavior. But at the same time, I just spent roughly $100 on ham from Benton’s Smokehouse in Tennessee, so one way or another, this is happening.

Coming up next: ingredient sourcing and recipe selection.

Have thoughts about how you’re going to handle your own Thanksgiving?

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