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Public health officials urge Canadians to limit Thanksgiving parties amid COVID-19

Elianna Lev
·4-min read
People wearing face masks to protect them from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) while selecting pumpkins for Thanksgiving and Halloween at a farm in Markham, Ontario, Canada, on October 03, 2020. Cases of COVID-19 continue to rise, with record daily numbers across the Greater Toronto Area. Calls to place the city of Toronto back into lockdown to slow the spread of the virus are mounting from healthcare officials. (Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images)
People wearing face masks to protect them from the novel coronavirus (COVID-19) while selecting pumpkins for Thanksgiving and Halloween at a farm in Markham, Ontario, Canada, on October 03, 2020. (Photo by Creative Touch Imaging Ltd./NurPhoto via Getty Images)

Thanksgiving is traditionally a time to gather with family and friends around the table, express gratitude and dig into a big meal loaded with turkey and seasonal side dishes. But this year, health officials across the country are urging Canadians to celebrate the season with caution when it comes to who you surround yourself with, in light of the spike of COVID-19 in certain regions.

Dr. Theresa Tam, Canada’s chief public health officer, released a statement in advance of the holiday, urging people to make different plans than they’re used to making for the annual feast.

"We've got some serious planning to do," Tam said in a release. "Not the carefree planning we had last Thanksgiving but rather some ingenious Canadian COVID-19 'holiday-hacks' that will ensure there are no viruses invited or passed around at our gatherings."

She even suggested having virtual holiday days in an effort to avoid the increase in cases.

On Monday, the city of Toronto issued a release, urging Torontonians to celebrate the holiday responsibly.

Ontario medical officer of health, Dr. Eileen de Villa strongly advised people to carefully plan their Thanksgiving and limit contact to the people they live with. She urged people not to host large Thanksgiving meals, and to limit those attending to each household only.

On Tuesday, Ontario reported 548 new cases of COVID-19 in the province, with a total of 55,362 confirmed cases. It showed 201 new cases in Toronto, 90 in Peel Region, 62 in Ottawa, 56 in York Region and 30 in Halton Region.

In Alberta, chief medical officer of health Dr. Deena Hinshaw also urged people who weren’t feeling well to stay home over the Thanksgiving weekend. The province has seen a rise in the number of active cases in recent weeks, with 1,783 in the province as of Tuesday, 982 of which were in Edmonton.

"I sympathize with the desire to be with the people we love most, celebrate all that we have to be thankful for. However, this is not a normal Thanksgiving," Hinshaw said.

Raywat Deonandan, an epidemiologist at the University of Ottawa, says using extra caution during the Thanksgiving weekend should depend on where you live. If you’re somewhere with a lower number of active cases, like Atlantic or Northern Canada, it’s almost business as usual but with the same precautions you’d normally take in recent weeks, such as mask wearing and hand washing.

He recognizes that some might need to be around family, and if that’s the case, it’s up to people to use their best judgement.

For those choosing to have dinner with family or friends, Deonandan says eating outside is preferable if the weather is amenable. If the weather doesn’t work in your favour, consider converting a garage to a dining space, where there is airflow.

“It’s not quite outside but if the door is open and windows are open, a cross breeze will help,” he says.

If you are in a house amongst people who live under the same roof, he advises wear a mask while indoors and not eating. When it’s time to eat your meal, don’t sit across from other people at a table, but space out around the room.

Although researchers have found the COVID-19 to not be highly transmissible through high touch surfaces like counters and doorknobs, Deonandan still recommends avoiding touching those areas.

“Don’t share cutlery or ladles, don’t share glasses,” he says. “Be circumspect with the use of the bathroom.”

Deonandan says the only perfect solution is to isolate, but if that’s not possible, do what you can to minimize risk.

“Public health is the art of the possible,” he says. “What’s possible in your circumstance? Is it possible to be outside? Then be outside. Is it possible to be in the garage? Then be in the garage. Everyone has to weigh the risks and then do what’s possible to minimize transmission. And the perfect solution is to not go to someone’s house.”