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Seven COVID-19 experts on how they’ll be celebrating Thanksgiving this year

A small child is tested for coronavirus on Tuesday in LawrenceDavid L. Ryan/Globe Staff

Experts have been serving up ample portions of advice on the coronavirus risk of Thanksgiving dinners, ranging from quarantining and testing visitors to sitting outside to keeping gatherings limited to those you live with. But what are the experts doing themselves? Here’s a sample of what some are saying about their own plans:

Dr. Megan Ranney, an emergency physician at Brown University in Rhode Island who specializes in public health research, said Wednesday that she normally hosts a big family gathering with her parents, aunts, uncles, and cousins from the New England area. This year, however, the normal get-together on her favorite holiday has been canceled because "it is simply not safe to do it inside, with the current community levels of COVID.”


“Instead, I will have an indoors dinner with my husband and kids. If the weather is nice, I may host my parents outside at a good distance (9 feet+) for a socially distanced outdoor dessert or drink — but only with separate utensils, plates, cups, and so on. I’m willing to miss one year of celebration to keep my relatives safe and to avoid worsening the number of cases in the community," she said in an e-mail.

Dr. Paul Sax, clinical director of the Division of Infectious Diseases at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, said in an e-mail, “Most years we visit my family in New York, or my wife’s family in Cleveland. But this year, it’s just my wife, my son, and my dog Louie and cat Otto at home. Zoom meetings with extended family in New York and Cleveland, and my daughter in Arizona.”

In a New England Journal of Medicine Journal Watch blog post Wednesday, however, he suggested it was unrealistic to expect everyone to strictly limit their get-togethers — so he offered 10 tips for safer gatherings. He also sounded a reassuring note, saying, “Remember, it’s likely going to be weird like this for just one year.”


Dr. Howard Koh, a former top official at the Department of Health and Human Services during the Obama administration who is now a professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, said in an e-mail, “We are celebrating with a very small gathering of some of our immediate family. Tentatively it will be 3-6 people total. We have much to be thankful for and look forward to a bigger celebration next year!” In a media briefing last week, Koh, who also once served as Massachusetts public health commissioner, had warned, “This cannot be Thanksgiving as usual.”

Joseph Allen, a professor at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health and director of the school’s Healthy Buildings Program, tweeted Tuesday that “we are not doing indoor Thanksgiving dinner this year.” He said the air doesn’t circulate enough in the average home to disperse the coronavirus and noted that if someone did come to visit, he would open the windows, run portable air cleaners, have everyone wear masks, stay distant from each other, and keep it brief.

Maia Majumder, a computational epidemiologist at Boston Children’s Hospital, told Buzzfeed News she and her husband would be spending Thanksgiving only with her parents and mother-in-law, even though cousins and siblings live just minutes away. “We often have more than 50 people over for Thanksgiving — but because risk is additive, every additional person makes the get-together less safe for everybody else. That’s why we’ve cut our number down to just five total this year ... We’ll miss the rest of our family, but everyone understands the circumstances and is willing to make the sacrifice now so that we can all eventually be together again,” she said.


Melissa Hawkins, a professor of public health at American University in Washington, said in a post on The Conversation that her family had canceled their usual plans to travel to Florida for a larger celebration. Instead, she and her husband, their four kids, and her mother, aunt, and uncle will celebrate at her house. They will take a number of precautions, including limiting contact with other people before the event, getting tested before and after, and having a shorter, socially-distanced outdoor meal or an indoor meal with windows open and a number of other precautions. “We will still share love, some laughs and a good meal while everyone does their part to protect one another,” she said.

Last month, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, said he was keeping his celebration minimal. He said in a talk hosted by the Kennedy Political Union at American University that he and his wife have three adult daughters in different parts of the country whom they would love to see, but “They have said themselves, ‘Dad, you know, you’re a young vigorous guy, but you’re 79 years old. … We would love to be with you, but you know what we want you to do? We want you and Mommy to have a nice, quiet dinner, maybe have a neighbor next door that always comes over the house that you know that’s negative, and we’ll send our love via Zoom.”


Martin Finucane can be reached at martin.finucane@globe.com.