NC Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen and Gov. Roy Cooper said residents should look to a scaled-back Thanksgiving as coronavirus surges again. (Image via NC DPS) Mandy Cohen and Roy Cooper
NC Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen and Gov. Roy Cooper said residents should look to a scaled-back Thanksgiving as coronavirus surges again. (Image via NC DPS)

Smaller gatherings, more testing, outdoor meals. Here’s why coronavirus has many people in NC rethinking Thanksgiving this year.

For many, like Kernersville resident Amanda Ellis, Thanksgiving is going to be very different this year. 

“All gatherings on both sides of my family have been cancelled,” she says. “I respect everyone’s decision, but I’m totally heartbroken.”

Ellis says she’ll eat with her immediate family, her husband and son. 

“I haven’t broken the news to my son yet. After the year we’ve had, and not getting to really see anyone, he was really looking forward to family time.”

The Ellis family surely won’t be only one rethinking the holiday. With the holidays approaching, COVID-19 numbers are climbing across the state. Wednesday’s total of 3,119 new cases marked a new single-day high for the state, which is also reporting rising hospitalizations.

NC Secretary of Health and Human Services Mandy Cohen warned this week of “a new peak” in North Carolina, where more than 300,000 have been infected since March and 4,698 have been killed.

The surge in novel coronavirus cases also spurred updated advice from public health leaders. 

“The best way to protect loved ones during Thanksgiving is to limit travel and gatherings with anyone who does not live in your household,” Cohen said in a statement this week. “If you do plan to get together, there are important steps you can take to reduce the risk of spreading COVID-19 to your family and friends.”

Cohen’s agency released guidelines this week for celebrating Thanksgiving safely. 

Among those steps, Cohen advises quarantining prior to holiday gatherings, as well as getting a COVID test 3-4 days out to ensure none of the attendees are infected. Cohen also advises considering limiting gatherings to just immediate family or holding virtual celebrations. That coincides with Gov. Roy Cooper’s latest announcement that the state will remain in Phase 3 of reopening, but the indoor gathering limit would drop from 25 to 10 people.

‘Going smaller this year.’

Caterers like Reto’s Kitchen in Greensboro have already noticed an uptick in smaller holiday orders.

“We have had many more orders for our two-serving sliced turkey breast offering this year, when compared to 2019–14 times as many orders,” said Chris Clegg of Reto’s. “Normally the eight-serving full breast offering is much more popular. This year they’re nearly even in sales, possibly suggesting smaller gatherings than normal.”

And for those who are still planning to have larger gatherings, the NCDHHS recommends serving meals outdoors or in well-ventilated areas with ample room for social distancing. 

Chad Daymont, co-owner of American Party Rentals in Durham said his company—which rents everything for gatherings from serving ware to tents—has seen an increase in items for al fresco celebrations.

“I have spoken with multiple families that are hosting in the garage or outside on the patio—there does seem to be movement to congregating in an area that has more air flow,” said Daymont. “We’re getting a lot more requests for patio heaters—that’s not typically something people would ask for for Thanksgiving.”

Daymont said even his own family has considered limiting the number of guests at their Thanksgiving dinner this year. 

“My family is talking about going smaller this year, “ he said. “Typically we’d go to my in-laws’ house where there’d be multiple families, but this year it’s probably going to be just my family and my in-laws.”

Hosting a Thanksgiving gathering? Here are a few more tips from the NCDHHS to keep it safe:

  • Clean and disinfect commonly used surfaces like door handles, sink handles and countertops before the event and after each use.
  • Wear a mask when not eating or drinking.
  • Limit people going in and out of food preparation areas such as the kitchen or grill.
  • If possible, choose one person to serve food to prevent multiple people from handling serving utensils.
  • Offer single-use options for items like salad dressings and condiments so that multiple people aren’t handling those containers.
  • Wash hands or use hand sanitizer frequently.