What You Should Know Before Traveling for Thanksgiving

The situation in the United States has grown so critical that the CDC recommends people stay home this Thanksgiving. CDC advises not gathering with family and friends who do not live with you because of its impact on the spread of  COVID-19 and/or flu.

Part of communicating well is trusting the public with the truth. For that reason, I write frankly about our situation in the United States. That the public understands the dangerous place to which our current path leads is of critical importance. It may well decide how dark the weeks ahead become.

If the number of new cases and deaths in the US are proportionally similar to what we saw over the summer, and especially if the number of new cases per day continues to rise, Americans should prepare themselves for loss on a scale not seen in the US since the Civil War era.

We are already likely to see 2,000 or more deaths a day in about a month, but we could easily see more if we fail to do our part in stopping this.


That said, if you still travel or have guests, I’ve included some recommendations.


Why Should I Care If I’m Young and Healthy?

Hospitals in multiple states have reached such a point that they have no more staff or beds available. Whether it’s someone with Covid or not seeking care, we cannot treat people without resources, staff, and hospital beds.

That means the young man in a car accident may not get the care he needs in time to save his life. It may mean the mother who hasn’t felt her baby move in the womb for some time won’t see a care provider fast enough to prevent the worst.

That is where we are right now. Americans have a much higher risk than many understand, and 47% of the US population is a high risk for serious illness and death, according to the CDC this past summer.

Around 160 million Americans are obese or overweight. Nearly 30% of those under the age of 20 are obese or overweight; it’s not just adults. That changes our risk.

Obesity is one of the most common risk factors among serious and fatal Covid cases. Conditions common in the US like heart disease, cancer, diabetes, osteoarthritis, and kidney disease make a person more likely to have a serious or deadly case. Starting at a BMI of 23, the risk for hospitalization and death increases. People with pneumonia from COVID-19 have twice the mortality rate seen with non-COVID-19 viral pneumonia, and obesity increases the risk for developing COVID-related pneumonia.

Patients with obesity or diabetes ended up in the ICU at higher rates. One study reported that the risk increases were considerable:

  • Overweight: 2.45x

  • Obese: 3.5x

  • Morbid Obesity: 5.18x

  • Diabetes: 5.49x

Among the lifestyle factors examined, only overweight/obesity linked to pneumonia, considering eight lifestyle factors. The risk increase was nearly three times the norm.


Death is not the only undesirable outcome.

Whether there will be long-term consequences that follow coronavirus infection, we do not yet know. There is no way to know. About 35% of people with COVID-19 still have symptoms 2–3 weeks later, the CDC reported. Symptoms frequently last six weeks or more.

That means many more newly sick people before those infected first have recovered. That is when we face a reality where young people who could otherwise have been saved die. We can prevent tragedy; we can save lives, but no one can do it alone. It takes us all.

While we may never know the true case count in the early pandemic, the surge that happened this past summer was better documented. We never exceeded 500,000 new confirmed cases per week and breached 1,000 deaths a day in the weeks following. Deaths always lag, and as we find cases sooner and treat people earlier, it may look like deaths have steeply declined when they have not.

We have already exceeded 1 million new cases this past week, twice the number of cases per week, followed by 1,000 deaths per day. We could reasonably expect 2,000 deaths a day with the next month. How many more we lose beyond that is largely up to us.


If You Still Plan to Travel, here are some recommendations.

If you are considering traveling for Thanksgiving, here are some important questions to ask yourself and your loved ones beforehand. These questions can help you decide what is best for you and your family.

  • Are you, someone in your household, or someone you will be visiting at increased risk of getting very sick from COVID-19?

  • Are cases high or increasing in your community or your destination? Check CDC’s COVID Data Tracker for the latest number of cases.

  • Are hospitals in your community or your destination overwhelmed with patients who have COVID-19? To find out, check state and local public health department websites.

  • Does your home or destination have requirements or restrictions for travelers? Check state and local requirements before you travel.

  • During the 14 days before your travel, have you or those you are visiting had close contact with people they don’t live with?

  • Do your plans include traveling by bus, train, or air, which might make staying 6 feet apart difficult?

  • Are you traveling with people who don’t live with you?

If the answer to any of these questions is “yes,” you should consider making other plans, such as hosting a virtual gathering or delaying your travel.

It’s important to talk with the people you live with and your family and friends about the risks of traveling for Thanksgiving. Resist the temptation to ignore this crisis. We all feel information fatigue; we want this to be over. To end this sooner rather than later, each of us must take personal responsibility for what we can control.


When traveling…

illustration of people at an airport social distancing and using hand sanitizer


Wear a mask

illustration of a young woman leaving home wearing a mask

Wear a mask with two or more layers to help protect yourself and others from COVID-19. Wear the mask over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin. Make sure the mask fits snugly against the sides of your face.


Stay at least 6 feet away from others who do not live with you.

illustration of a person and child wearing masks standing six feet apart from a young woman wearing a mask



Wash your hands

illustration of a person wearing a mask washing their hands

  • Wash hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.

  • Keep hand sanitizer with you and use it when you are unable to wash your hands.

  • Use hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.



illustration of a woman wearing a mask arriving for a gathering


Attending a Gathering: Celebrating virtually or with the people you live with is the safest choice this Thanksgiving.

If you choose to attend a gathering, make your celebration safer. In addition to following the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer, take these additional steps if attending a Thanksgiving gathering:

  • Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils.

  • Wear a mask and safely store your mask while eating and drinking.

  • Avoid going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen.

  • Use single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable items like food containers, plates, and utensils.

Hosting a Thanksgiving Gathering

illustration of friends gathering outdoors wearing masks and six feet apart

Celebrating virtually or with the people you live with is the safest choice this Thanksgiving.

If having guests to your home, be sure that people follow the steps that everyone can take to make Thanksgiving safer. These steps include:

  • Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.

  • Limit the number of guests.

  • Have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.

  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use.

  • If celebrating indoors, bring in fresh air by opening windows and doors, if possible. You can use a window fan in one of the open windows to blow air out of the window. This will pull fresh air in through the other open windows.

  • Limit the number of people in food preparation areas.

  • Have guests bring their own food and drink.

  • If sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils.


Consider Other Thanksgiving Activities

Host a virtual Thanksgiving meal with friends and family who don’t live with you.

illustration of a young family enjoying a virtual meal with an older couple

  • Schedule a time to share a meal virtually.

  • Have people share recipes and show their turkey, dressing, or other dishes they prepared.

Watch television and play games with people in your household.

  • Watch Thanksgiving Day parades, sports, and movies at home.

  • Find a fun game to play.


  • Shop online sales the day after Thanksgiving and the days leading up to the winter holidays.

  • Use contactless services for purchased items, like a curbside pick-up.

  • Shop in open-air markets, staying 6 feet away from others, and wear a mask.

Other Activities

  • Safely prepare traditional dishes and deliver them to family and neighbors, so that does not involve contact with others (for example, leave them on the porch).

  • Participate in a gratitude activity, like writing down things you are grateful for and sharing with your friends and family.


Rustic table setting for Thanksgiving Day