CDC releases updated Thanksgiving guidelines focusing on small household gatherings

The CDC has released updated guidelines for celebrating Thanksgiving amid the coronavirus pandemic. (Photo by Smith Collection/Gado/Getty Images)

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have released updated guidelines for Thanksgiving celebrations as coronavirus cases once again surge in the United States.

The updated guidelines come as experts say small household gatherings have become an important contributor to the rise in COVID-19 cases. The first set of guidelines released by the agency ranked a number of popular Thanksgiving activities by their level of risk.

The CDC's updated guidance includes considerations to slow the spread of the virus during small gatherings, but say they are meant to supplement, and not replace, local health and safety laws and regulations.


Officials say celebrating virtually or with members of your own household poses the lowest risk of spread during over the holiday. Bringing together family members or friends from different households, including college students returning home, poses varying levels of risk.

Those organizing and attending holiday gatherings are asked to consider the risk bases on some of the following factors.

  • Community levels of COVID-19
  • Potential exposure during travel
  • Location of gathering (indoor or outdoor)
  • Duration of gathering
  • Number of people expected to attend
  • Behaviors of attendees prior to gathering
  • Behaviors of attendees during gathering


People who have tested positive for COVID-19, or have been exposed to someone who has, should not host or participate in any in-person gathering.

Those with symptoms of COVID-19, or waiting for viral test results, should also refrain from attending the events.

Potential guests who may be at an increased risk for severe illness, or live or work with someone at an increased risk, should also avoid in-person gatherings.


The CDC also included some considerations when it comes to deciding whether or not it may be safe to host an in-person gathering.

Hosts are encouraged to check COVID-19 infection rates in their area, and in areas where guests may live.

Limiting the number of attendees as much as possible and allowing people from different households to social distance at all times is also encouraged.

Hosting the gathering outdoors, rather than indoors, as much as possible and requiring guests to wear masks when they aren't eating or drinking is also encouraged. If you are hosting an indoor gathering, the CDC says to increase ventilation as much as possible by opening windows and doors.


When it comes to food and drinks, the CDC says hosts should encourage guests to bring food for themselves and members of their household and to avoid potluck-style gatherings.

If you're preparing or serving food for guests that don't live in your household, you should wear a mask, officials say.

Guests are encouraged to have a plan for storing their mask while eating and drinking. One person, who is wearing a mask, should handle serving shareable items and be the only one handling those serving utensils.

As always, everyone is asked to wash their hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, or use hand sanitizer before and after preparing, serving, and eating food.


The second iteration of CDC Thanksgiving guidance also includes recommendations for safe travel and overnight stays.

It includes most of the basics, including mask-wearing, avoiding close contact with others, and hand washing.

When it comes to deciding whether or not to stay overnight, hosts and guests are again asked to assess risk based on location and method of travel.

Overnight stay recommendations also include basic mitigation efforts like mask-wearing, social distancing, improved ventilation, and hand washing.

You should also monitor hosts and guests for COVID-19 symptoms.

A week before Thanksgiving, the CDC updated their guidelines and warned against traveling to visit relatives and friends this Thanksgiving and holiday season and urged those with possible coronavirus symptoms or other illnesses to stay home.


If you are exposed to COVID-19 at a holiday gathering the CDC says you should self-quarantine for 14 days.

Watch for a fever of 100.4 degrees Fahrenheit or higher, cough, shortness of breath, or other symptoms of COVID-19.

Consider getting tested for COVID-19, and even if you have test negative or feel healthy you should still stay home for quarantine for 14 days after the last contact with a person who has COVID-19.


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