Two young women in fall

The crisp fall days let us know that Thanksgiving is getting close. It’s a wonderful holiday for enjoying comforting food and connecting with family and friends. It’s also the first major holiday this season that will feel different because of the pandemic.

With COVID-19 rates remaining high, it’s important to keep our families, our friends and ourselves as safe and healthy as possible through the coming holidays. Below are tips to consider as you start making plans and to-do lists. Some relate directly to the coronavirus, others to health in general.

Celebrate safely

Thanksgiving often means a big sit-down meal with close family, distant cousins and old friends. But a classic indoor gathering also increases the risk of spreading the coronavirus. If just one person has the virus – even if he or she doesn’t feel sick – it can easily spread to others. A safer way to celebrate is to have a smaller Thanksgiving meal just with family members who live together. You can connect with others by coordinating and enjoying your mealtime over a group phone call or video chat. Record it for those who can’t take part. It won’t be the same, but you can still show you’re thinking of them. Other safety guidelines and ideas from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention are at bit.ly/HolidaysCDC and bit.ly/ActivitiesCDC.

Check in on your family’s health

“The holidays are a time when we check in with extended family members, even if we can’t be together in person,” said Bettina Drake, associate director of community outreach and engagement at Siteman Cancer Center at Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis. Part of that can be catching up on their health and well-being. Drake suggests three ways to do that:

  • Ask relatives (and friends) how they’re doing, especially if they live alone, and see if there’s anything they need.

  • If some have missed doctor’s appointments or screenings because of the pandemic, encourage them to contact their health-care providers about getting back on track. Help them make an appointment, if necessary.

  • If you haven’t recently, update your family health history for your relatives to share at their next doctor visits. If a disease like cancer or heart disease runs in the family, there may be steps that can help reduce or manage your risk.

Keep up with healthy behaviors – and look after yourself

Combine the busy holidays with shorter, colder days – plus a global pandemic – and it’s really easy to get knocked off our regular health and self-care routines. But for our well-being, it’s important to stay physically active, eat healthy food, get enough sleep and just take some time for ourselves. It’s not always easy to do – and can take some creativity these days – but it can also have real benefits.

It’s safe to say most of us are tired of pandemic life, and with some of our favorite holidays coming up, it’s tempting to take a break from precautions and celebrate like we would normally. But it’s important that we keep taking steps to stay safe and healthy and to curb the coronavirus outbreak. Yes, the holidays will be different this year. But different doesn’t have to mean worse. With a little extra effort, they can still be special, meaningful and offer a chance to connect with loved ones. 

It’s your family’s health. Take control.

Additional resources

Bettina Drake, associate director of community outreach and engagement at Siteman Cancer Center, recommends these other websites for more information:

Family history basics

bit.ly/FamHistoryCDC 

Cancer screenings and COVID-19

bit.ly/ScreeningsAndCovidACS

Healthy behaviors

8ways.wustl.edu 

Dr. Graham A. Colditz, associate director of prevention and control at Siteman Cancer Center at Barnes-Jewish Hospital and Washington University School of Medicine in St. Louis, is an internationally recognized leader in cancer prevention. As an epidemiologist and public health expert, he has a long-standing interest in the preventable causes of chronic disease. Colditz has a medical degree from The University of Queensland and a master’s and doctoral degrees in public health from Harvard University’s T.H. Chan School of Public Health.

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