Tips to navigate Thanksgiving safely

A survey from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that many Americans are planning to take precautions, including asking about vaccination status or requiring testing, this Thanksgiving. (Dreamstime/TNS)

Alison Bowen

Chicago Tribune

(TNS) – It’s Thanksgiving, and another pandemic holiday season, even though many thought we would be done with all of this. Thankfully, vaccines are available this year, which reduces the issues families will face.

But many will still face a slew of challenges, from what to cook (supply chain problems) to pivoting conversations in a positive direction. And many families will have a mixture of vaccinated and unvaccinated members, creating the still-stubborn need to plan around COVID-19.

A survey from the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center found that many Americans are planning to take precautions, including asking about vaccination status or requiring testing. About half plan to ask about vaccination status, and about half will ask guests to wear masks. Nearly three-fourths plan to keep celebrations limited to members of their household.

Here are tips to keep the holiday safe and festive.

COVID-19 precautions

With vaccines available, the holidays will be less restricted, but we are not yet to Christmas, when children age 5 and older will have gotten both their shots. This has been creating dilemmas for families.

That’s why the University of Chicago Medicine’s Dr. Allison Bartlett, with one child under 12 who has had their first vaccine shot but not their second, is still limiting Thanksgiving. “It makes Thanksgiving a little tricky,” she said.

She encourages people to think of Christmas or even New Year’s as a better time to have large gatherings.

“If everyone is vaccinated except the littlest kids and the littlest kids are all from the same family, and visiting with grandparents, that’s a reasonably safe situation,” she said. “It’s the mixing of unvaccinated, or partially unvaccinated with other families, that starts to amplify that risk.”

If you don’t want people in your home who are sick or unvaccinated, say that early. Similarly, if you’re going to someone else’s home, “You should ask about what the status of people who will be there is.”

Really plan ahead for the meal

The supply chain has created issues across the country, and this might affect Thanksgiving too. Consider ordering ahead of time if you can; grocery stores have reported that they don’t expect scarcity, but experts still say to avoid waiting. Especially because after a year where festivities were scaled back, more families may be planning bigger get-togethers.

Keep conversations pleasant

We know — every year, holiday tips include how to avoid talking about politics or how to approach these conversations. Talkspace therapist Elizabeth Keohan suggests being proactive and coming up with conversation starters in advance, focusing on life changes, funny stories.

“Remember to be as thoughtful about listening,” she said. “Catching up and sharing time with others is as important as the meal itself.”

And, happily, University of Chicago behavioral scientist professor Nicholas Epley said that our dread of these conversations can often be more negative than the discussions themselves.

We underestimate how much people in our lives appreciate hearing that we are thankful for them, and why. Thanksgiving is a perfect time to focus on gratitude.

“Giving thanks, being grateful, and in particular expressing gratitude to somebody else makes you feel happier,” he said. “In fact, it’s probably the one thing you can do on any given day to have the most positive impact on your well-being or mood, and yet people are often reluctant to express gratitude.”

Family gatherings might feel more weighted — and exciting — this year, after many people canceled or limited holidays last year. But this also could bring two years of build-up, for example, with relatives who we may not agree with on politics or virus risk. These assumptions can color conversations, he said.

Ignore advice to avoid deep conversations, he said. It can be wonderful to have thoughtful discussions and extend them to, perhaps, the cousin you’ve never really gotten to know.

“They tend to go better than you expect, and they tend to be better than sticking to shallower stuff,” he said. “People underestimate how interested others are in having deep and meaningful conversation.”

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