Member Solutions for a COVID-Safe Thanksgiving

Members | November 09, 2020 | by Dee Pekruhn

As Thanksgiving approaches – one of the biggest family-centric holidays of the year – members are weighing various options for how to ensure that residents, staff and families enjoy a safe and COVID-minded holiday. Below, we share member examples and solutions; you can also read the results of our recent member survey on this issue in You Asked, You Answered; Thanksgiving Planning Survey Results

With the weather changing – and most get-togethers moving indoors – members are giving great thought and consideration to how to help residents, staff and families safely celebrate Thanksgiving. Here, we offer a summary of ideas and solutions that members have shared as we prepare for one of the year’s biggest family-centric holidays. As with all things COVID, there are two primary areas to consider: solutions for resident celebrations and travel, and solutions for staff celebrations and travel. And, do read our companion article, CDC and the States’ Guidance on Thanksgiving Gatherings, to learn what the federal and state governments have recommended or required for this time of year.

Solutions for Resident Celebrations and Travel

As members consider Thanksgiving gathering solutions for residents, there are many facets being weighed. Should guests be permitted in the Dining Room – or just in resident apartments? Will we open the Dining Room at all – or offer enhanced catering options? And, what if residents travel – what happens when they return? Below, we summarize the answers members are offering to these important considerations.

Starting with Thanksgiving and the Dining Room, members vary widely on whether or not they will reopen their Dining Room for this holiday meal. In some states, the local spread of COVID has risen to the level such that these members either have decided to close – or they never even opened – their resident Dining Rooms. For other members, they have decided to hold Thanksgiving meals in the Dining Room, but only for residents of their community. To promote conspicuous infection control, members are preparing their staff teams with special trainings, and some are separating staff tasks and teams so that there is no inter-mingling of staff who are in contact with residents, such as waitstaff, with staff who are doing preparatory work, such as kitchen staff. In addition, members who have Dining Rooms open on Thanksgiving are eliminating the buffet-style service for banquet or “wedding-style” service, where residents are presented with a full plate of their choice of protein (turkey, fish, or beef) and all the traditional sides. When residents arrive at their tables, many members are coordinating seating so that ‘households’ are together, seats and tables are ‘socially distanced’ at six feet apart or greater, and in some communities, residents must wear masks except while eating and drinking. Meal times are preset for a set duration (between 60-90 minutes), individual and total reservations are limited to a certain maximum number (up to 40 within the entire Dining Room in one example), and some communities are offering multiple seatings to provide ample space and time to clean and disinfect the Dining Room between seatings.

Next, we consider members’ solutions for Thanksgiving and Resident Guests. Again depending upon whether members have or are planning to reopen their Dining Rooms, members vary on whether they will permit residents to have guests in the Dining Room, in their own homes, or at all. Members who are permitting resident guests in the Dining Room are placing limits on how many are permitted, and similar infection control, social distancing, and masking requirements apply. Where possible, these members are positioning their Dining Rooms and/or entrances to the Dining Rooms to minimize guests’ movement through the community. Guests will still be beholden to the member community’s visitor policies, including screening and other now-common COVID protocols. As an added layer of protection, a few member organizations have explained to family guests – especially guests of nursing home residents – that if they are observed embracing a resident, that resident will have to self-quarantine for a period of time after the Thanksgiving meal. For entertainment, some members have hired live performers, but only instrumentalists, as singing and vocal performances have been identified by the CDC and some states as a “higher risk of transmission.”

In other member communities, only residents may come to the Thanksgiving meal, but residents may request an enhanced, catered and delivered Thanksgiving meal to their apartment or cottage. Residents may invite a certain limited number of guests to enjoy this meal within the residents’ homes. Some communities are adding little “goodie bags” and special messages from their leadership, hosting virtual concerts and performances, and bringing muffins and coffee to all residents on Thanksgiving morning.

Yet another consideration for residents is Thanksgiving and Travel protocols– and this is one area where many members are taking a similar approach. First and foremost, many members are continuing to offer education and information to residents from CDC regarding the risks of travel and gatherings for high risk individuals. Members have shared that many of their residents do plan to travel for Thanksgiving; as one member phrased it, their leadership is encouraging a “We not Me” mentality. Essentially, providers such as this organization are either suggesting or requiring that any residents who travel for the holidays should self-quarantine upon return to their member community. In some instances, members have delineated between traveling for the day – where self-quarantine is only suggested – and traveling overnight - where self-quarantine is required. Some member organizations are requesting or requiring that residents demonstrate a negative COVID test result before they stop quarantining; other member organizations are simply testing all residents within the community following the Thanksgiving holiday. Still others are urging residents who travel to strongly consider who else may be in attendance at the family gathering, and to either avoid or keep a great distance from others who have traveled from states with high or rising COVID prevalence – including college-aged family members.

Solutions for Staff Celebrations and Travel

As members have tackled this question before, namely, during the spring and summer vacation request period for staff, most feel confident in applying a similar approach for staff travel and time off during Thanksgiving. A key difference here, of course, is that there is a greater likelihood of COVID transmission during Thanksgiving, where folks will be in closer proximity indoors. Similar to the above approach with residents and travel, providers are beginning with education and information for staff, primarily from the CDC, on Thanksgiving, Gatherings, and Travel. Staff are being advised to check the status of the destination where they are headed, as some states are requiring self-quarantine either upon arrival or following return from a “high risk of transmission” state. Should a staff member choose to travel, and then be exposed to COVID, members are offering a variety of solutions, such as allowing that staff member to use FMLA CARES act leave coverage, paid time off, or unpaid leave to self-quarantine. Because staff testing is already a norm for many member organizations, some are requiring a negative COVID test result prior to resume work duties post-travel.

Alternately, member organizations are finding ways to help staff celebrate safely at home, including offering Thanksgiving grocery shopping or even full Thanksgiving take-home meals as a benefit. A “holiday pie program’ for both residents and staff was highlighted in one member example. With solutions like these, potential staff exposure is further minimized as they are not ‘out with the crowds’ in last-minute meal preparation shopping. Additionally, organizations are emphasizing the risks to staff members about shopping on the Friday after Thanksgiving, where dense crowds and indoor settings can raise the risk of contracting COVID.


These highlights are just a few of the many creative solutions and ideas members are considering ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday. Have one to share? Please take our online Community Holiday Plans Survey, or contact Dee Pekruhn at