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COVID-19: MDH's guidance for celebrating Thanksgiving during a pandemic

MDH's guidance for celebrating Thanksgiving this year asks people to avoid large gatherings and instead celebrate in small groups or with family.

Health officials are discouraging large indoor gatherings with friends and family during the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday in hopes of preventing the spread of COVID-19.  

Gatherings at people's homes are one of the most common ways the virus is spreading in Minnesota, which has health officials reminding people that every time you get together with people outside of your household, your risk for contracting and spreading the novel coronavirus increases, according to holiday celebrations guidance from the Minnesota Department of Health (MDH).

Because many traditional holiday activities, like sharing a meal, could help spread the virus, MDH is hoping people choose activities that are considered a lower risk of spreading COVID-19 to others. 

Arguably the most important of the lower-risk activities suggested by the MDH is having dinner with the people you live with, rather than traveling to see family and friends outside your household. Other lower-risk activities include having a virtual dinner with friends and family, shopping online instead of in-person on Black Friday, and preparing your favorite family recipes for family and friends – especially those who may be at higher risk – and deliver them without making contact with others.

Things like having dinner outdoors with a small group of family and friends who live in your community and small outdoor sports events are considered medium-risk activities when it comes to the potential for spreading the virus. 

MDH is asking people to avoid higher-risk activities to help stop the spread of COVID-19. These activities include shopping in crowded stores, attending crowded races or parades and going to large indoor gatherings with people who do not live with you.

As with any activity, MDH stresses that people follow the basic health guidelines of staying home from in-person gatherings if you're sick, wearing a mask, washing your hands and staying six feet apart from those who aren't in your household (see more tips below).


State health officials and the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention both say traveling increases the chance of getting and spreading the coronavirus, noting staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. 

The CDC lists flights with layovers in the highest risk category, along with traveling on cruise ships and riverboats, while direct flights or long-distance train and bus trips are listed as slightly less of a risk. Meanwhile, short trips by car with members of your household are listed in the lowest-risk category.

When deciding if you should travel for the holidays (or any other occasion), the CDC encourages people to consider the level of community spread where you're coming from and where you're going as well as if anyone you are visiting could get very sick if they get COVID-19. 

Those who are planning to travel for the Thanksgiving holiday, which in non-pandemic years is the busiest time of year for air travel, can start preparing for their trip now. 

On Monday, the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) released some tips for travelers so they know what to expect at the airport since it's been so long since many people flew. They include:

  • TSA staff and passengers will be wearing masks. As a traveler, you will be asked to momentarily remove your mask so TSA can verify your identity. Packing an extra mask or two can be helpful.
  • TSA asks that people stay six feet apart in lines and from TSA personnel. 
  • Acrylic shielding has been installed throughout TSA checkpoints to help protect TSA employees and travelers. 
  • Travelers can bring one liquid hand sanitizer container up to 12 ounces in carry-on luggage (this is more than the liquid limit for other items). 
  • TSA has increased cleaning and disinfecting of frequently touched checkpoint surfaces and screening equipment, including bins. 

Health guidelines for every day of the year

MDH has a list of reminders for gatherings of any kind during the COVID-19 pandemic to help prevent the spread of the virus.

They are:

  • Stay home if you're sick, at a higher risk of getting sick from COVID-19 or if you've potentially been exposed to the virus.
  • Avoid traveling as it increases the chance of you getting and spreading COVID-19.
  • Keep gatherings small – indoor events should be limited to 10 people or fewer, while outdoor gatherings should have a maximum of 25 people.
  • Host gatherings outside whenever possible.
  • If you're hosting an event indoors, open windows and/or doors to allow air to flow.
  • Wear a mask whenever you're gathering with people you don't live with – this goes for both indoor and outdoor gatherings.
  • Encourage people to bring their own food and drinks – don't share utensils or drinking cups.
  • Stay 6 feet away from people with who you do not live.
  • Remember who you gathered with – keep a list of invited guests in case someone gets COVID-19. This will be helpful if the health department calls in its effort to contact trace. 

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