If you’re planning a large Thanksgiving gathering with family and friends this year, think twice!

That’s because health officials are warning against such gatherings this year, and they are imploring the public to take important safety precautions to protect themselves and their loved ones against the coronavirus, which continues to pose a serious health threat in California and across the nation.

As COVID-19 continues to impact the country, families may be tempted to let their guard down as they gather to enjoy a Thanksgiving feast and interact closely with one another. However, underestimating the risks posed by this virus would be a serious mistake, because the coronavirus still poses a significant threat to our communities’ health.

“There are some important steps we can take to protect our health while still celebrating this beloved American tradition with our families and friends,” says Dr. Umber Chohan, infectious diseases specialist with Kaiser Permanente Southern California. “However, going about it as if there’s no need for concern is not a wise decision, and it could create a serious health risk to yourself and your loved ones!”

If you plan to host a dinner to feast on turkey and trimmings, Dr. Chohan recommends significantly limiting the number of people present due to the ongoing pandemic.

In general, the lowest risk for contracting or spreading the highly infectious virus is simply by celebrating Thanksgiving in your own home with members of your household and/or celebrating virtually with extended family, she notes.

“We advise everyone to skip any big Thanksgiving plans this year,” Dr. Chohan says. “Also, whenever possible, it’s really important to take extra additional precautions, including wearing masks, following good hygiene practices and observing physical distancing.”

Dr. Chohan also encourages families to celebrate Thanksgiving outdoors in their backyards or elsewhere outdoors whenever possible.

“Indoor public areas are one of the places with the highest risk of transmission of the coronavirus,” she explains. “Natural air currents outside disperse virus particles more quickly and effectively than inside. There’s minimal to no air circulation indoors due to a lack of ventilation, allowing virus particles to linger in the air or fall on high-touch surfaces. Also, there are more surfaces that people frequently touch indoors.”

Dr. Chohan advises that if you are going to celebrate Thanksgiving indoors, then the best way to stay safe is through the three basic methods: wearing masks, physical distancing and good hand hygiene. That’s why it’s wise to keep hand sanitizer with you and/or wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. It’s also important to keep disposable wipes on-hand to clean and disinfect surfaces.

If you plan to host or attend a holiday gathering, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends:

• Washing your own dishes to limit cross-contamination.

• Using paper plates, because they are safer to use than regular dishes.

• Wiping down common areas with disinfectants.

• Avoid using shared serving utensils or passing dishes around the table.

Dr. Chohan stresses that if an invited family member or friend is sick, even if they have very mild symptoms or just feeling "under the weather," they should be advised to stay home since they may have COVID-19 or other germs that pose a threat to your health.

“We all want to enjoy our families and friends during this wonderful holiday,” she notes. “We can do that. However, it should be done in a way that’s both enjoyable and safe by taking precautions that better protect our health -- and the health of our loved ones -- during the COVID-19 pandemic.”

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