New Normal? These States Want to Micromanage Your “Safe” Thanksgiving Celebration

by Daisy Luther

This promises to be a holiday season like no other in our memory, what with the hotly contested election, a new series of lockdowns and restrictions, and another wave of COVID-19 taking over the mainstream media headlines.

With Thanksgiving quickly approaching, the Centers for Disease Control, individual states, and a handful of universities seem to be competing for the most “thorough” advice on how families and friends should handle the holiday.

Some families are voluntarily changing how they intend to celebrate this year due to their concerns about the health of family members, which is understandable and well within their rights,. However, others are chafing at what they see as the restrictive and invasive nature of the “guidance.”

Trigger Warning: A while back, I wrote an article about 12 words and phrases I never wanted to read again. This article is FILLED with them.

The CDC has come out with this advice for a “safe” Thanksgiving.

  • Limit the number of attendees as much as possible to allow people from different households to remain at least 6 feet apart at all times. Guests should avoid direct contact, including handshakes and hugs, with others not from their household.
  • Host outdoor rather than indoor gatherings as much as possible. Even outdoors, require guests to wear masks when not eating or drinking.
  • Avoid holding gatherings in crowded, poorly ventilated spaces with persons who are not in your household.
  • Increase ventilation by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather, or by placing central air and heating on continuous circulation.
    • For additional information on increasing ventilation, visit CDC’s information on Cleaning and Disinfecting Your Home.
    • Winter weather can be cold, wet, and unpredictable. Inclement weather makes it difficult to increase ventilation by opening windows or to hold an event outdoors.
  • If setting up outdoor seating under a pop-up open air tent, ensure guests are still seated with physical distancing in mind. Enclosed 4-wall tents will have less air circulation than open air tents. If outdoor temperature or weather forces you to put up the tent sidewalls, consider leaving one or more sides open or rolling up the bottom 12” of each sidewall to enhance ventilation while still providing a wind break.
  • Require guests to wear masks. At gatherings that include persons of different households, everyone should always wear a mask that covers both the mouth and nose, except when eating or drinking. It is also important to stay at least 6 feet away from people who are not in your household at all times.
  • Encourage guests to avoid singing or shouting, especially indoors. Keep music levels down so people don’t have to shout or speak loudly to be heard.
  • Encourage attendees to wash their hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are not readily available, use hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
  • Provide guests information about any COVID-19 safety guidelines and steps that will be in place at the gathering to prevent the spread of the virus.
  • Provide and/or encourage attendees to bring supplies to help everyone to stay healthy. These include extra masks (do not share or swap with others), hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol, and tissues. Stock bathrooms with enough hand soap and single use towels.
  • Limit contact with commonly touched surfaces or shared items such as serving utensils.
  • Clean and disinfect commonly touched surfaces and any shared items between use when feasible. Use EPA-approved disinfectantsexternal icon.
  • Use touchless garbage cans if available. Use gloves when removing garbage bags or handling and disposing of trash. Wash hands after removing gloves.
  • Plan ahead and ask guests to avoid contact with people outside of their households for 14 days before the gathering.

  • Treat pets as you would other human family members – do not let pets interact with people outside the household. (source)

It remains to be seen if there will be any enforcement of this guidance or if these are merely suggestions. In no particular order, here are some of the announcements from various states about the upcoming holiday.


Governor Gavin Newsom of California was the first to issue advice for Thanksgiving.

  • Gatherings that include more than 3 households are prohibited. This includes everyone present, including hosts and guests.  Remember, the smaller the number of people, the safer.
  • Keep the households that you interact with stable over time. By spending time with the same people, risk of transmission is reduced. Participating in multiple gatherings with different households or groups is strongly discouraged.
  • The host should collect names of all attendees and contact information in case contact tracing is needed later.
  • Gatherings that occur outdoors are significantly safer than indoor gatherings. All gatherings must be held outside. Attendees may go inside to use restrooms as long as the restrooms are frequently sanitized.
  • Gatherings may occur in outdoor spaces that are covered by umbrellas, canopies, awnings, roofs, and other shade structures provided that at least three sides of the space (or 75%) are open to the outdoors.
  • A gathering of no more than three households is permitted in a public park or other outdoor space, even if unrelated gatherings of other groups up to three households are also occurring in the same park or other outdoor space.  If multiple such gatherings are occurring, mixing between group gatherings is not allowed.  Additionally, multiple gatherings of three households cannot be jointly organized or coordinated to occur in the same public park or other outdoor space at the same time – this would constitute a gathering exceeding the permitted size.
  • Shared items should not be used during a gathering. As much as possible, any food or beverages at outdoor gatherings must be in single-serve disposable containers. If providing single-serve containers is not possible, food and beverages must be served by a person who washes or sanitizes their hands frequently, and wears a face covering. Self-serve items from communal containers should not be used.
  • When gathering, face coverings must be worn in accordance with the CDPH Guidance on the Use of Face Coverings (PDF), unless an exemption is applicable.
  • People at gatherings may remove their face coverings briefly to eat or drink as long as they stay at least 6 feet away from everyone outside their own household, and put their face covering back on as soon as they are done with the activity.
  • Face coverings can also be removed to meet urgent medical needs (for example, to use an asthma inhaler, take medication, or if feeling light-headed).
  • Gatherings should be two hours or less.  The longer the duration, the risk of transmission increases.
  • Singing, chanting, shouting, and physical exertion significantly increases the risk of COVID-19 transmission because these activities increase the release of respiratory droplets and fine aerosols into the air. Because of this, singing, chanting, and shouting are strongly discouraged, but if they occur, the following rules and recommendations apply:
    • All people who are singing or chanting should wear a face covering at all times while singing or chanting, including anyone who is leading a song or chant. Because these activities pose a very high risk of COVID-19 transmission, face coverings are essential to reduce the spread of respiratory droplets and fine aerosols;
    • People who are singing, shouting, chanting, or exercising are strongly encouraged to maintain physical distancing beyond 6 feet to further reduce risk.
    • People who are singing or chanting are strongly encouraged to do so quietly (at or below the volume of a normal speaking voice).
    • Instrumental music is allowed as long as the musicians maintain at least 6-foot physical distancing. Musicians must be from one of the three households.  Playing of wind instruments (any instrument played by the mouth, such as a trumpet or clarinet) is strongly discouraged.  (source)


Thanksgiving falls in the midst of Oregon’s two-week “freeze” and Governor Kate Brown wants to see get-together limited to no more than six people total, and from no more than two households, regardless of whether the event is being held indoors or outdoors. Indoor visits in long-term care facilities are prohibited. (source)

New Jersey

Governor Phil Murphy of New Jersey, via executive order, has limited indoor gatherings to no more than 10 people. (source)


Governor Andy Beshear issued a dire warning:

“Those that you may think that you may only have five, ten Thanksgivings left with — if we’re not careful this year, you may not have more than one.” (source)

Gov. Beshear and the state health officials recommend the following guidelines:

  • Avoid gatherings with people who do not live in your household.
  • Always wear a face mask or covering around others.
  • Maintain a social distance of at least six feet.
  • Avoid large gatherings, especially ones held indoors.
  • Do not host or attend crowded Thanksgiving parades.
  • Avoid shopping in crowded stores before Thanksgiving, on Black Friday or throughout the holiday season. (source)


Governor Tony Evers and DHS Wisconsin hope that residents will skip the in-person get-togethers entirely and follow the guidelines of his Executive Order on Thanksgiving as well as the rest of the month. They offered these alternatives.

  • Sharing meals with people who live in your household.
  • Preparing meals or treats and delivering to loved ones in a way that avoids contact.
  • Having virtual gatherings with friends and family.
  • Shopping online or ordering delivery.
  • Watching sports, events, or parades from home.

Several universities in Wisconsin are taking matters into their own hands. Students at the University of Wisconsin and the University of Wisconsin-Green Bay will be required to take a COVID test before leaving and upon their return if they wish to go home for  Thanksgiving. At UW in Oshkosh, “the university is encouraging students to simply stay put.” (source)


Governor Kim Reynolds has ordered Iowa residents to limit indoor gatherings to 15 people or less from now until December 3rd, directly impacting the Thanksgiving holiday period. (source)


Governor Gary Herbert of Utah seems reluctant to issue restrictions on family-oriented events but says that state residents can expect some recommendations in the next few days.

“We are a family oriented state. My tradition, I always gather with my family, ever since I can remember. To have a change in that is a little disheartening to me,” Gov. Herbert said in a brief interview on Capitol Hill on Tuesday. “So we need to find ways to maybe get together in small groups, or see what we can do.” (source)

At least one doctor in the state is less hesitant.

Dr. Todd Vento, an infectious diseases physician at Intermountain Healthcare said his recommendation is to skip the family get-together.

“This is the year when, unfortunately, there’s 20% positive tests, exponential growth, hospitals are overwhelmed,” he told FOX 13 on Wednesday. “The advice from experts would be to not gather.”

Dr. Vento recommended Utahns gather virtually, using video-conferencing apps. (source)


The University of Alabama at Birmingham has a fun-filled list of suggestions, too.

Health officials said if you plan on hosting a thanksgiving gathering, have a small outdoor meal if possible. If it has to be indoors, space out the guests and have windows open.

UAB said during thanksgiving, sharing is a big part but instead, pre-portion meals versus having the traditional buffet line.

They also recommend limiting the number of cooks to just one and keep everyone out of the kitchen, aside from the cook. (source)

Dr. Michael Saag, an infectious disease specialist at the university, suggests Alabamans limit their table to 5-7 people and have everyone else join in via Zoom.


Meanwhile, in Virginia, Governor Northam has ordered that public and private events decrease the number of people allowed by 90% and now children ages 5-10 are no longer exempt from wearing masks.

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“My message today is for every Virginian,” Northam said Tuesday. “We all need to step up our vigilance and our precautions, especially as we head toward the Thanksgiving holiday.”

…If you do gather with people outside your household for Thanksgiving, Virginia officials encouraged taking some extra precautions. Keep gatherings small, celebrate outside if possible and keep indoor areas well-ventilated with open windows. (source)

Other recommendations include remaining masked and sitting with your chairs at least 6 feet apart during your Thanksgiving celebrations.

North Carolina

The North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services recommends not traveling anywhere for Thanksgiving. But if you do, or if you host an event, keep these guidelines in mind:

  • Host your gathering outdoors, when possible. If this is not feasible, make sure the room or space is well-ventilated by opening windows and doors to the extent that is safe and feasible based on the weather.
  • Arrange tables and chairs to allow for social distancing between guest. People from the same household can be in groups together and do not need to be 6 feet apart – just 6 feet away from other groups or families.
  • Practice the 3 Ws (Wear, Wait, Wash) during the event: Wear a face covering when not eating or drinking, Wait six feet apart from others, and Wash your hands regularly.
  • When guests need to remove a face covering to eat or drink, it is recommended they maintain 6 feet distance from people outside their household and put their face coverings back on after they are done eating or drinking.
  • Limit people going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen or around the grill, if possible. Have one household approach the food serving area at a time to prevent congregating.
  • Consider identifying one person to serve all food so that multiple people are not handling the serving utensils.
  • Use single-use options or identify one person to serve sharable items, like salad dressings, food containers, and condiments, so that multiple people are not handling the items. (source)

The state also recommends attendees all be tested for COVID 3-4 days before the event. (source)


The state of Georgia recommends the following strategies:

  • Quarantine for 14 days before you gather.
  • Get tested before you go and limit your contact with others until you reach your destination.
  • Evaluate travel distance, including how many stops, overnight stays and potential contact with non-household contacts it would take to reach your destination, and see if driving versus taking a flight is better given those factors. It’s best not to travel too far, and you should avoid coming from or going to areas with high community transmission.
  • Limit the number of people at gatherings. There’s no magic number–more people pose more risk. The size of the gathering depends on the host’s ability to safely keep attendees apart, not crowded into a confined space, and outdoors is better than indoors.
  • Socially distance and wear masks, even if you’ve all been tested. Being tested with a negative result isn’t necessarily a free pass to mingle without preventative measures. If you’ve quarantined for 14 days already, you can merge your social bubbles and interact freely but cautiously.
  • When eating your meal together, open your windows to increase ventilation and keep at least 6 feet apart, or keep family units together, while spacing out non-household members.
  • Minimize the number of people handling the food and washing the dishes.
  • If you or a family member are at higher risk for severe infection, you should reconsider gathering together and instead celebrate virtually.

Is this your picture of a normal holiday scene? Probably not. But we’re not living in normal times. Let’s keep each other safe, and do what it takes now to be able to come together for the holidays.  (source)


Washington state has some of the strictest guidelines in the country. Governor Jay Inslee ordered sweeping instructions on the state and included these tidbits that apply to Thanksgiving and other social gatherings.

Indoor gatherings, outside one’s household, are prohibited unless participants quarantine for 14 days before the gathering or quarantine for seven days before and receive a negative COVID-19 test within two days of the planned gathering…

…Outdoor social gatherings should be limited to no more than five people from outside your household, Inslee said. (source)

However, enforcement will be limited.

“You’re not going to expect state troopers coming to your door if you have a big Thanksgiving dinner,” Inslee said. “We do hope people who want to abide by the law will abide by the law.” (source)


Governor Jared Polis of Colorado was pretty gung-ho with his Thanksgiving imagery.

Polis described the Thanksgiving setting as “indoor, intimate contact around a table” where COVID-19 was highly likely to spread.

Polis compared risky COVID-19 behavior during the holidays to Russian roulette.

While referencing risk reduction by self-quarantining for the family dinner, Polis said, “It’s not fun to play Russian roulette in one in a hundred chances the bullet is in the chamber, but it’s a heck of a lot better than playing Russian roulette with the bullet in one in ten chambers.”

This quote followed Polis describing the tricky situation where family members are divided on whether or not they quarantine. Polis stated that even if only some family members quarantine, the risk of COVID-19 being present is still lowered. He continued to encourage as many family members to self-quarantine as possible if they plan on gathering for the holiday.

Polis continued, “The more family members that make that decision to self-quarantine, the more likely it is that you’re not bringing a loaded pistol for Grandma’s head.” (source)


Dr. Philip Huang, Dallas County Health and Human Services director, has some fun-filled suggestions for Texans, including eating your meal quietly after quarantining for the next two weeks to prepare for it.

For those celebrating with other households, the county recommends having plenty of hand sanitizer, limiting the duration of the gathering to less than two hours, wearing a mask when not eating or drinking, and even eating in silence.

“It can’t be a holiday as usual,” Huang said. “There is this new normal we’re having to deal with. It definitely can’t be like how it’s been in the past.”

Though eating quietly may not be the norm for families at Thanksgiving, Huang said the recommendation was made because the virus can spread through droplets that are emitted when someone speaks, laughs, coughs or sneezes.

Dr. Sonja Bartolome, a lung disorders expert at UT Southwestern, said that while a silent dinner table is desirable, she understands people are not likely to commit to that. “That’s going to be very difficult,” Bartolome said. “Your best bet is to limit the number of people.”

President of the Texas Medical Association, Dr. Diana L. Fite, suggested Texans also watch how much alcohol they drink because people tend to speak louder — and thus emit more droplets and aerosols — when they drink.

“There’s no question that you can spread aerosols when you’re eating, especially if you’re both talking and eating at the same time,” Fite said. (source)

One columnist suggested that watching the football game together could be the most dangerous time of the day.

Keep the visit to needed conversation and family contact.

Then go back home to watch the games.

The most dangerous hours this entire holiday season might be the time huddled too close with Grandma or Grandpa around the TV just idly watching the Dallas Cowboys play the Washington team. (source)

New Mexico

Governor Michelle Lujan-Grisham of New Mexico has issued strict guidelines for citizens and businesses. Small businesses could face massive fines for continuing to operate as normal. She also has the following advice for the upcoming holiday.

 Make plans for a different kind of Thanksgiving – one without non-household members.  (source)


At the University of Arizona, school officials have asked students who go home for Thanksgiving not to return to campus after the holiday.

The university is asking all students to fill out a survey on their planned Thanksgiving travel and to schedule a COVID-19 test as close to their travel date as possible to prohibit the transmission of COVID-19.

After Thanksgiving, all classes will be held online only and students who travel out of the Tucson area are encouraged to finish the semester remotely.

Lastly, the university is requiring students to select one of the three following travel options: Students planning to travel for Thanksgiving break can choose to complete the rest of the semester outside of the Tucson area or completely online from their student residence. Students who do not travel for Thanksgiving break are able to complete the semester as is from their student residence. (source)


Michigan Governor Gretchen Whitmer says the situation is “dire” and has issued a three-week epidemic order that includes the restriction that only two families can gather indoors at a time.

Whitmer asked people to “make the difficult but right choice” and avoid large gatherings during the holiday.

“If you are considering spending Thanksgiving with people outside of your household, I urge you to reconsider,” Whitmer said.

“As hard as it is not seeing [family members] this Thanksgiving, imagine how much harder it would be if you weren’t able to see them for a future holiday ever again,” she added. (source)

New York

New York’s Governor, Andrew Cuomo, recommends skipping Thanksgiving altogether.

“My personal advice is, you don’t have family gatherings – even for Thanksgiving,” the governor said as he listed off a number of smaller gatherings that have led to recent outbreaks across the state.

“My personal advice is the best way to say ‘I love you,’ this Thanksgiving, the best way to say ‘I’m thankful for you,’ is to say, ‘I love you so much, I’m so thankful for you, that I don’t want to endanger you, and I don’t want to endanger our family and I don’t want to endanger our friends. So we’ll celebrate virtually,’” he added.  (source)

Don’t forget state quarantines and travel restrictions

If your loved ones are out of state, you may also have quarantines with which to contend.

Some states have no restrictions, while others have visitors fill out health forms or show negative COVID tests. Maine demands that people returning to or entering the state without a negative COVID test undergo a 14-day quarantine and arrive with enough food to see them through the 2 week period.

You can learn about the current travel restrictions between states in this article.

American opinions are split.

Many are very concerned about the ongoing pandemic and plan to follow the recommendations. One Washington state resident is cancelling her family’s plans.

“Our family is canceling Thanksgiving plans that included other family households,” said Alyse Read, who lives in Edmonds. “We will Zoom or Skype and share our traditions this year.” (source)

However, others take an extremely dim view of the guidance and believe that these restrictions aren’t really about the virus at all.

How will your family celebrate Thanksgiving this year?

Have you decided how your family will be celebrating Thanksgiving this year? Will you make any changes? Do you have any family members who fall into the “vulnerable” category? What are your thoughts on this guidance? Let’s talk about it in the comments.



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