Here's how infectious disease doctors and public health experts are safely celebrating Thanksgiving this year

Here's how infectious disease doctors and public health experts are safely celebrating Thanksgiving this year

November 22, 2020

This year for Thanksgiving, experts and public health officials have made it clear that getting together with a large group of people from outside your immediate household increases the risk of transmission at a time when infections are soaring in the U.S. and the country's Covid-19 death toll is now above 250,000.

The Centers for Disease Control advises Americans not to travel during the Thanksgiving period.

White House advisor Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation's leading infectious disease expert, said in early October that he plans to have a "very, very closed family type of thing," and would not be getting together with his own adult children for Thanksgiving.

As you rethink your holiday plans and brainstorm creative solutions, you might be wondering what steps you should take to celebrate safely. Here's how five experts are spending Thanksgiving during the pandemic.

Married Yale experts are doing just the nuclear family

"We're going to have a family Thanksgiving, but it's just going to be our nuclear family," Jeffrey Townsend, a biostatistician at the Yale School of Public Health, tells CNBC Make It. Townsend has three children (ages 10, 11 and 13) with his wife, Alison Galvani, who is a professor of epidemiology at Yale University and the director of the Center for Infectious Disease Modeling and Analysis.

Townsend says video chatting during the pandemic has helped him stay in touch with friends and family members who he otherwise wouldn't see. "I feel more in touch with the people who are most important to me than I did pre-pandemic, which seems counterintuitive," he says.

Mass General infectious disease doc is skipping travel

Dr. Rajesh Gandhi, an infectious diseases physician at Massachusetts General Hospital and Harvard Medical School, and chair of the HIV Medicine Association, says he is not planning to travel or host anyone from out of state for the holidays. Typically, his two siblings, one of whom lives in another state, as well as his out-of-state elderly parents would join, but not this year.

"Cases are just too unpredictable right now," Gandhi tells CNBC Make It.

Gandhi keeps "a pretty tight social bubble" during the pandemic, including his wife, daughter who lives at home and son who lives nearby. "Since I live in Boston, where it tends to be cold, I'll probably be indoors with my immediate family and children," he says.

Infectious disease prof doing happy hour instead of dinner

Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center in Nashville, Tennessee, is briefly getting together with eight or so extended relatives for only one hour before he goes home with just his household for dinner.

"We're eating separately," he tells CNBC Make It. "The only thing that might be served during [the pre-dinner get together] is a beverage." While indoors, everyone will be wearing a mask and maintaining at least six feet of social distance.

"We're eager to see each other," Schaffner says. "Some of us haven't seen each other for months now." But in his family, there are older people who have conditions that put them at a higher risk, as well as college students who have been on campus and even high schoolers who are attending school in-person. Given the ranging risk profiles, they determined that this plan was safer than the standard sit-down dinner.

Chief patient safety officer canceled plans for a cabin in the woods

Initially, Dr. Iahn Gonsenhauser, chief quality and patient safety officer at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, planned to go on a road trip to Colorado and spend Thanksgiving in a cabin in the woods with his family, including his two young children (who are 4.5 and 7 years old) as well as his sister and her two children.

"But given how the status of Covid across the nation has changed, and how important it is that we do everything we can to try and limit the spread of coronavirus in our communities, we have canceled our plans," he tells CNBC Make It.

Instead Gonsenhauser is doing Thanksgiving at home with his children and wife. "We will be celebrating with my sister's family via Skype, and asking grandmas and other family also to join us virtually," he says.

Of course, it was a bummer to cancel yet another vacation due to Covid. "We can all use the break, we can all use the time away," Gonsenhauser says. "There are needs right now that are far too great to put my personal interests ahead of the interests of our communities."

Public health CEO is staying home

"Every single thanksgiving for the past nine years, we've driven to New Jersey to have Thanksgiving with my wife's entire family," Dr. Brian Castrucci, president and CEO of the de Beaumont Foundation, the nation's largest philanthropy focused solely on state and local public health, tells CNBC Make It. "This year, we will be doing it here in Rockville, Maryland by ourselves."

Castrucci and his wife have two kids, ages 9 and 11. "I remind them that the only person's behavior that you can control is your own," he says.

Castrucci's advice is to be clear about why you're not attending the gathering. "Your bubble is about trust," he says. "I'm not going home for Thanksgiving, because I don't trust that all of my family members are taking this with the same seriousness that I am."

Check out: 7 things you can do this Thanksgiving to stay safe help prevent a dangerous post-holiday Covid-19 spike

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