What risks are there to gathering for Thanksgiving? Can I spend time with my family and loved ones? 

Most of us are still in shock about the severity of the COVID-19 pandemic. Spending Thanksgiving without our entire family cuts at our core. As if COVID-19 was not stressful enough, missing out on family connection when we need it most compounds that stress and anxiety.  

The potential of COVID-19 infecting our older and at-risk family members is just as distressing. Missing a major holiday with beloved family members is painful, but spreading this virus to those loved ones is an unfathomable gamble that we cannot take. Protecting our loved ones is a blessing, privilege, and responsibility.

A main indicator of risk for gathering is the community levels of COVID-19. As COVID-19 cases surge in Gallatin County and across Montana, the potential risk of infection from any gathering is especially high. This risk is even higher if guests travel from other COVID-19 hotspots. We have already seen COVID-19 spikes associated with gatherings and holidays across the U.S. and in other countries. As painful as this is, now is not the time to physically gather with our loved ones. 

In warmer climates, a Thanksgiving gathering with social distancing may be more possible. However, an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner with good hygienic protocols to reduce COVID-19 spread is not possible in Montana. Our forecast is already calling for cold weather and snow. Poor ventilation makes indoor gatherings, even in small groups, risky. Elders and at-risk people should avoid indoor gatherings completely.  

Missing Thanksgiving with our loved ones is painful, but it is necessary for your family’s and our community’s protection. Our family members are too important to be cavalier with their health and safety. They deserve our utmost consideration, selflessness, and care. 

Our options for safely gathering this Thanksgiving are limited, but we can make the best of them. The safest option is to only gather with your household members and those that you live with. A virtual Thanksgiving is a safe way to connect with distant loved ones. For Thanksgiving, Zoom is lifting its 40-minute limit for video chats. There are several outlets to set up a virtual game night too.    

We must protect our loved ones. Their health and lives are not expendable. This pandemic has caused enough pain and heartache. Please do not exacerbate it further. Avoid gathering this Thanksgiving. We have the power to make a difference in our community. Canceling gatherings will have an effect on the level of community spread, number of COVID-19 outbreaks, and toll on our healthcare systems in the coming weeks and months. We are in this together. The power is in our hands.