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Thanksgiving plans squashed. Don't be a turkey, health experts say

The holidays will look different this year with all the Covid restrictions. We asked what people are planning, and what safe holidays could look like.

In their three and a half years together, Bill Hulseman and Jonathan Brown of Fremont have always spent the holidays with Brown’s family up in Everett. So before the pandemic, Brown says, they planned to switch things up in 2020.

“If Covid hadn’t happened, I wanted to fly to Chicago, spend time with his family, because we haven’t done really any major holiday with his family," he said.

Then came the pandemic. So they made a new plan.

“We are doing a road trip,” said Brown. “Because, like, we do not want to fly yet.”

“I have a sister who’s down in Arizona,” said Hulseman.

That was the Thanksgiving plan until this past weekend, when the West Coast governors urged people not to go anywhere. Now, Hulseman and Brown plan to meet up with family … over Zoom.

That’s the safest way to do holidays, said Lindsey Marr, an engineer at Virginia Tech who researches how viruses move through air.

But if you do plan to travel, here’s some advice: Airplanes are actually not as risky as they might seem.

“All the bigger planes have very big ventilation and filtration," said Marr. "Once you’re sitting in your seat, I think the risk is quite low if everyone is masked. I’d be most concerned about sitting next to, or right in front of, or right behind, someone who’s talking a lot without a mask.”

But, Marr said, not all airlines run their ventilation systems during boarding and deplaning, and lines and crowds in airports can be risky as well.

All things considered, a personal car is the safest way to go, Marr said.

“Although you do need to stop occasionally for bathroom and refreshments and gas," she said. "Frankly, we just use the great outdoors. And try to bring all the food that you’ll need.”

Once you arrive, there’s the question of where to stay. Definitely don’t stay with relatives," Marr said. “It’s really a recipe for transmission."

Hotels can be fine, as long as people require masks in common areas.

People have their own rooms, and HVAC (air flow) systems are usually not connected between rooms. This is a time to check out the cheaper motels, which have outdoor corridors, so you don’t need to go into the lobby, through the elevator, and through the hallways.

Still, public health officials say, the safest thing to do is stay home.

That's Hilary Godwin’s plan for Thanksgiving. Godwin is dean of the UW School of Public Health. She had originally planned a small get-together with an extended family.

“All the conversations were who’s getting together with whom over Thanksgiving so we can meet what the restrictions were then,” Godwin said.

But those plans were drastically changed after Governor Jay Inslee’s new restrictions, including no indoor social gatherings.

“We’re just going to individually do our own Thanksgiving with our immediate household,” she said.

Godwin said it was a hard decision, but it’s for the best. And she understands the disappointment.

“Like everyone else, I’m grieving the loss of opportunity to spend time with my loved ones over the holidays, but the bottom line is, we want to take care of each other within our family and unfortunately taking care of each other means staying apart.”

Covid cases have been spiking in Washington, with more than 134,000 confirmed cases to date. As infection rates soar, health providers say there’s already a shortage of intensive care unit beds.

“We want to be able to provide those people who need intensive hospitalization with the care that they need,” Godwin said. “To do that, we’re going to need to be able to slow down the progression of this particular wave of the pandemic.”

The good news, Godwin said, is that this is temporary. Two vaccines on the horizon give her hope.

“I really do think we’ll be in a different place next fall," she said. "Hopefully people will get vaccinated, and we’ll all be collectively doing much better next year.”

Like many families across the country, Godwin will try to connect with loved ones via Zoom. It may not be what she had planned, but seeing loved ones virtually will bring her joy.