While Thanksgiving is typically a time for family and friends to come together and enjoy each other's company, Bay Area health officials are imploring residents to celebrate responsibly next Thursday and take every effort to help stem the spread of the coronavirus.
With COVID-19 cases spiking throughout the U.S., health officers from the counties of Alameda, Contra Costa, Marin, San Mateo, Santa Clara and Santa Cruz, as well as from the city of Berkeley, recently issued travel safety tips for residents to safely enjoy Thanksgiving and the entire holiday season.
Officials have further encouraged creative solutions for celebrating the holidays, such as virtual get-togethers for families and having safe, physically distanced get-togethers with members of the same household or social "pod."
"With cases rising around the country, and beginning to increase a bit here in Contra Costa County as well, we all must come together and keep up our efforts to reduce transmission," Dr. Chris Farnitano, Contra Costa County's health officer, said in a statement.
"When people who live in different houses or apartments are together at the same time in the same space, risk of COVID-19 spreading goes up, even when the people are relatives or friends. Please celebrate safely this year and protect yourself and your family by including masks, keeping a distance, and staying outdoors," Farnitano added.
Residents who gather with groups who live outside of their household or social pod -- even extended family members -- significantly increase the risk of contracting or spreading COVID-19, which has recently seen a significant resurgence throughout the state.
According to Gov. Gavin Newsom, as of Monday, California has seen its quickest increase in new cases statewide over the last 10 days since the pandemic began in March -- resulting in additional closure restrictions for every Bay Area county.
In light of the recent spike in cases, regional health officials say the safest way for residents to celebrate this holiday season is virtually or with members of their own household.
People are encouraged to start new holiday traditions, share a virtual meal with family and friends, decorate their homes, participate in drive-by events, see a drive-in movie or visit outdoor holiday-themed art installations.
"Any activity outside of your household increases chances of exposure to the virus. Be selective and space out which public activities you choose. If gathering with your small, stable group is most important, consider forgoing or delaying other activities such as a haircut or indoor dining to reduce your overall exposures and protect your group," the Bay Area health officials said in a joint statement.
If residents do elect to celebrate in-person, then they are advised to keep it small, short, stable and safe.
In-person gatherings should follow all social distancing guidelines, including masks, and be limited to no more than three household groups of people -- residents are strongly discouraged from participating in multiple gatherings with many different households. Gatherings are also advised to last no longer than two hours.
Health officials recommend that gatherings use single-serve disposable containers for meals; however, residents can also serve from a single container if it is done by a single person who washes or sanitizes their hands frequently and wears a face covering.
Residents are also advised to remain outside as much as possible and to avoid singing, chanting or shouting.
Travel, both locally and regionally, is also strongly discouraged by health officials who say that travel significantly increases the risk of spreading COVID-19.
"California just surpassed a sobering threshold -- one million COVID-19 cases -- with no signs of the virus slowing down," Newsom said in a statement. "Increased cases are adding pressure on our hospital systems and threatening the lives of seniors, essential workers and vulnerable Californians. Travel increases the risk of spreading COVID-19, and we must all collectively increase our efforts at this time to keep the virus at bay and save lives."
The states of California, Oregon and Washington have all gone so far as issuing travel advisories, strongly recommending that visitors entering or leaving their states self-quarantine for at least 14-days.
Perhaps most importantly, if residents must travel they are advised to plan ahead.
For car trips, residents should not sit in a vehicle with people outside of their household. It is also recommended to avoid airplane travel due to the potential spread of the virus; however, viruses tend to not spread easily on flights because of how air circulates and is filtered on airplanes, local health officials said.
They also noted that for flights, it is likely that residents will be sitting within six feet of others for long periods of time and airplanes may be more crowded than usual for the holidays.
"If you have COVID-19 symptoms, get tested and wait for a negative test result before you start your trip. Even if you test negative for COVID-19, you should not travel if you're feeling ill as you may spread another infection," they added.
Some Tri-Valley residents have already found creative solutions for celebrating Thanksgiving, like Pleasanton's Sue King-Irwin whose family is going to be bringing their traditional celebration outside.
"Since we do not 'socially bubble' together, this year we are planning an outdoor meal ... at my sister's house in Santa Rosa. Her adult kids gave her an outdoor burner for winter social gatherings, so we should stay warm," King-Irwin said.
Planning to enjoy a slightly smaller Thanksgiving gathering than usual, King-Irwin will gather with between four to six members of her family -- and while not all of them belong to the same household, they will be able to maintain social distancing by eating outdoors.
"I am excited to see my sister and my niece, but I'm also a little nervous. If it rains outside, I'm not sure what we are going to do. I'm also sad because usually we have a big potluck and everybody brings something, but we're not doing that; we're doing take-out," she added. "And we won't be able to hug, for me that's huge."
Pleasanton resident Ruth Van Art has likewise made plans to celebrate Thanksgiving in a socially distanced manner, and will be eating outdoors at her son's home in Oakland.
"We think this arrangement will satisfy both our desire to be together, and our need to be safe. In case of much-needed rain, we have tarps and poles to create a cover for our outside tables," Van Art told the Weekly. "Maybe this idea will appeal to others."
To learn more about holiday and travel safety tips and to receive updates on the coronavirus pandemic, residents can visit the Alameda County Public Health Department online at www.covid-19.acgov.org/index.page.