Guidelines for a Safer Thanksgiving During COVID-19 

Published on November 18, 2020

As Thanksgiving draws closer, Arlington County reminds everyone of the ways to make for a safer holiday season.

The pandemic has been stressful and isolating for many people, and traditional Thanksgiving gatherings can be a fun opportunity to reconnect with family and friends. But it is important to remember they can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.

Unfortunately, the COVID-19 epidemic is worsening, and gatherings with people outside of your household have been identified as an important contributor to the rise in cases. This year, consider how your holiday plans can be modified to reduce the spread of COVID-19 to keep your friends, families and communities healthy and safe.

Everyone Can Make Thanksgiving Safer

We can all make it a safer holiday season by continuing to practice the public health guidance we know slows the spread: wear a mask; stay at least 6 feet away from others who do not live with you; and wash your hands.

The safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving this year is to celebrate with people in your household. If you do plan to spend Thanksgiving with people outside your household, Arlington County is encouraging everyone to take steps to make your celebration safer by following the suggestions and guidelines issued by the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

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Additional Information from CDC: 


If you must attend a gathering, CDC recommends bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups, and utensils. Wear a mask, and safely store your mask while eating and drinking. Avoid going in and out of the areas where food is being prepared or handled, such as in the kitchen. Use single-use options, like salad dressing and condiment packets. Bring supplies to stay healthy including extra masks, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and tissues.

If you must have guests to your home, CDC suggests you consider a small outdoor meal with family and friends and limit the number of guests. Have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together. If celebrating indoors, make sure to open windows. Have guests bring their own food and drink. If sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils. Provide supplies to keep everyone healthy including extra masks, hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol and tissues. Stock bathrooms with enough hand soap and single use towels.

Anyone who has been diagnosed with COVID-19, is waiting for COVID-19 test results, or has been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the past 14 days should stay home.

Traveling During Thanksgiving

Thanksgiving is a time when many families travel long distances to celebrate together, but travel increases the chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others. If you must travel, be sure to take precautions, follow the travel guidance and be informed of the risks involved.

Whether staying in town home or hitting the road, we expect everyone to continue to practice the public health guidance that we know slows the spread of COVID-19: Wear a mask, avoid close contact by staying at least 6 feet apart from anyone not from your household and wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer (with at least 60% alcohol).

MORE: Click It or Ticket Campaign Underway to Boost Seat Belt Use Ahead of Busy Holiday Travel

Consider Other Thanksgiving Activities

There are many additional ideas for celebrating Thanksgiving more safely this year, with fun alternatives that pose lower risk of spreading COVID-19, like hosting a virtual Thanksgiving meal with friends and family who don't live with you, or watching television and playing games with people in your household.

Celebrate Thanksgiving 2020-style in Arlington

Looking for some creative inspiration to celebrate Thanksgiving this year? Arlington establishments are making sure you still get to enjoy turkey day — in a variety of creative ways.

  • Virtual 5K Turkey Trot: The 15th annual Arlington Turkey Trot will take on a virtual format — available to registered runners anytime Thanksgiving week.

  • Thanksgiving-To-Go: The need for physical distancing and cooler weather has limited capacity, but it doesn't mean you need to forego your favorite restaurant's Thanksgiving specialties. Check out options for a Thanksgiving at Home.

  • Dine-In Thanksgiving: Several Arlington restaurants are offering physically-distanced dine-in options (just be sure to reserve in advance!).

CDC Alternatives for a Safer Thanksgiving


  • A small dinner with only people who live in your household

  • Preparing traditional family recipes for family and neighbors, especially those at higher risk, with contactless delivery

  • A virtual dinner and sharing recipes with friends and family

  • Shopping online rather than in person on the day after Thanksgiving or the next Monday

  • Watching sports events, parades, and movies from home

  • A small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in your community.

  • Visiting pumpkin patches or orchards where people use hand sanitizer before touching pumpkins or picking apples, wearing masks is encouraged or enforced, and people are able to maintain social distancing

  • Attending a small outdoor sports events with safety precautions in place

Avoid these higher risk activities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19: 

  • Shopping in crowded stores just before, on, or after Thanksgiving

  • Participating or being a spectator at a crowded race

  • Large indoor gatherings with people from outside your household

  • Using alcohol or drugs that may alter judgment and make it more difficult to practice COVID-19 safety measures.

Food Safety

While COVID-19 safety is the large focus this holiday season, remember the importance food and cooking safety, too.

Did you know that unattended cooking is by far the leading contributing factor in cooking fires and fire deaths? Thanksgiving is the peak day for home cooking fires, followed by Christmas Day and Christmas Eve. Follow these holiday cooking safety tips from the Arlington County Fire Department, including what to do if you have a cooking fire.

And when you're done cooking, remember, keep your pipes FOG free. Fats, oils and grease — FOG — represent the most serious enemy of our sewer lines. When FOG is dumped down the drain, it forms large, thick grease balls that clog pipes. Clogged pipes can result in sewer backups and spills, create environmental problems, cause traffic tie-ups or even flood homes and businesses. Can it, cool it, and then throw it away.

The following information may help you prepare your special Thanksgiving meal and help you countdown to the holiday.

Additional Resources