1 in 3 parents believe Thanksgiving traditions outweigh COVID-19 risks, poll says

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One in three parents say the benefits of holiday celebrations outweigh the risks of spreading or getting the coronavirus, one poll found. - Fedor Kondratenko/Dreamstime/TNS

Although health officials and agencies have urged Americans to limit Thanksgiving gatherings to household members only, one in three parents say the benefits of holiday celebrations outweigh the risks of spreading or getting the coronavirus, one poll found.

University of Michigan researchers behind the survey said families should consider safer ways to celebrate Thanksgiving while keeping traditions alive to prevent the pandemic from worsening.

There are more than 12.3 million confirmed coronavirus cases in the U.S. and more than 257,000 deaths, according to Johns Hopkins University, yet 61% of parents said they still plan to meet in person with extended family on Thursday for the holiday feast, the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine found.

At the same time, 18% plan to celebrate with people who have traveled from another state, which experts have warned against because of the extra risks involved in traveling via plane or other modes of public transportation.

A separate survey conducted by Tripadvisor found that 56% of people intend to take trips for the holiday this year despite the pandemic, McClatchy News reported. From Friday to Sunday, more than 3 million people were screened by the TSA at airports, suggesting a large number of Americans are traveling for the holiday.

The new poll was based on responses, weighted to be representative for the entire nation, from 1,443 parents of at least one child age 12 or under.

“We all know that large public gatherings carry great risks of spreading COVID-19. But small and casual social gatherings where people feel most ‘safe’ are also part of what has been fueling transmission,” poll co-director Sarah Clark, whose work focuses on child health and immunization policy, said in a news release.

“With COVID-19 cases increasing in every state, it is essential that all family members do their part to prevent further spread. That may mean celebrating the holidays a little differently this year,” Clark added.

The poll reveals the conflicting reasons why many families are struggling over how to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

More than half of parents said it’s “very important” their child or children see extended family and experience family holiday traditions because the pandemic has taken this quality time away from them, according to poll results.

“For many parents, holidays mean sharing special rituals across different generations and opportunities for children to connect with grandparents, cousins and other relatives,” Clark said. “Our report suggests that while many children have spent less time with relatives during the pandemic, some parents may have a hard time foregoing holiday gatherings in order to reduce COVID-19 risks.”

Meanwhile, 75% of respondents said they “also believe it’s important to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at family gatherings.”

That’s because nine in 10 parents reported that their Thanksgiving celebrations usually include grandparents, who infectious diseases experts say are more at risk of contracting, being hospitalized with and dying from COVID-19.

For those families that still plan on gathering this week despite expert warnings, 88% said they won’t allow members who have COVID-19 symptoms or have been exposed to the virus to attend, the survey found, while 64% said they will exclude members who don’t follow COVID-19 precautions and 68% said they will ask guests to socially distance.

A sizable majority (76%) of parents also said they will try to limit contact between children and high-risk guests, although Clark warns this may be easier said than done.

“It may be difficult to maintain distance between children and high risk adults throughout a multiday visit or even during a lengthy dinner,” Clark said. “Parents should be realistic about how feasible it will be to limit contact and think carefully about whether to gather in person with high-risk family members.”

The researchers suggest parents should ask cousins and other school-aged family members whether they are attending in-person classes or activities, “given the differences in local and state regulations,” the release reads.

“If they are, there should be specific questions about how well COVID-19 precautions are consistently followed,” they wrote.

Conversations with children about the importance of wearing a mask and social distancing should also happen prior to Thanksgiving Day, the researchers said. Clark recommends kids spend most of their time outdoors.

Parents might want to talk about “proper ‘voice etiquette’ by limiting singing or yelling, as these actions can more easily spread viruses,” the researchers advise.

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