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How To Keep Your Family & Others Safe This Thanksgiving

Airline passenger in glasses wearing a mask seated while applying hand sanitizer.
A passenger wears a protective mask on his face, sitting on a plane while applying sanitizer to disinfect his hands against the coronavirus.

Amid growing numbers of coronavirus cases in North Texas, the medical community’s worried family gatherings and travel associated with Thanksgiving could make matters worse.

Dr. Joseph Chang, chief medical officer with Parkland Hospital System, offers KERA’s Sam Baker some advice on staying safe during the holiday season.


About Holiday Gatherings:

Right now, we know probably between 5-10% of our population is carrying around the virus in an asymptomatic way that could pass it on without even knowing that we have a virus.

So keeping the groups small, ten or less, is probably the best way to avoid having folks within that circle that are carrying around the virus unknowingly.

As much as the weather allows, have these meetings outside. It makes a tremendous difference in the chance of spreading COVID-19.

If It's An Indoor Gathering:

Definitely masking, and spacing people out to six or 10 feet. That's going to be the way to go.

Sharing The Holiday Meal:

Serve with gloves. Use serving utensils instead of your own fork.

For instance, have one person get some gloves on, get a spoon that no one's going to use, split up the food initially, and then everyone gets their own plate.

When To Clean And Disinfect During A Gathering

Probably the best way is to clean before your meal, and clean after your meal. And then when you're gathering around talking, put on your mask and separate. But I would really advise if you can go outside, spread out the ten feet or more, you don't have to wear masks. You're outdoors.

If You're Going Out To Someone's Gathering

A few factors you need to consider:

  • What is your health? What are your preexisting conditions? Each individual has to be honest with themselves about how much risk they want to take.
  • Wherever you are going, consider the environment you're going to. An outdoor gathering of 15 or 20 people spread out over 100 square yards is a much different story than going to a gathering of 20 to 30 of my work colleagues in a room that's only a hundred square feet. That makes a big difference.
  • What are they going to do to prep the environment before you get there — things like serving utensils, cleaning surfaces.

Those are some of the things you really want to think about when you're considering whether to take part in one of these gatherings.

Airline Travel

The airlines aren’t restricting the number of passengers on their planes. They're selling every seat. That means you, at most, are 18 inches away from the person next to you. When we say that a safe distance is six to 10 feet, a foot and a half is certainly below that.

There are no physical barriers between you and the person next to you. The best thing you have is just your mask. On a plane, I know masks are mandatory, but you have to make it mandatory, too.

I have personally had to ask people, sitting next to me, to put their mask on properly:

  • Chin strap use does not count as effective.
  • A mask exposing any part of the nose or mouth is not considered a proper use of a mask.

And don't be embarrassed. This is your safety on the line here. And the health and safety that people you're going to go see.


CDC/Coronavirus: Celebrating

Interview highlights were lightly edited for clarity.

Got a tip? Email Sam Baker at You can follow Sam on Twitter @srbkera.

KERA News is made possible through the generosity of our members. If you find this reporting valuable, consider making a tax-deductible gifttoday. Thank you.

Sam Baker is KERA's senior editor and local host for Morning Edition. The native of Beaumont, Texas, also edits and produces radio commentaries and Vital Signs, a series that's part of the station's Breakthroughs initiative. He also was the longtime host of KERA 13’s Emmy Award-winning public affairs program On the Record. He also won an Emmy in 2008 for KERA’s Sharing the Power: A Voter’s Voice Special, and has earned honors from the Associated Press and the Public Radio News Directors Inc.