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Due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic, Thanksgiving will look different this year. Whether you’re traveling back home for break or celebrating Thanksgiving with your friends on campus, here’s a guide to staying safe during the holiday season.

If you’re going back home

If you’re returning home to celebrate Thanksgiving this break, be sure to take extra precautions to keep yourself and others safe this season. Both Columbia and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention have advised against any non-essential travel, as cases across the country have spiked to over 12 million.

According to both the CDC and the University, considering the heightened risk of infection at airports, bus terminals, and train stations, the safest way to celebrate this holiday season is with the people with whom you currently live. However, If you are still considering travel during Thanksgiving break, the CDC recommends answering a list of questions to help you decide what is safest for you and your family. These include checking to see if cases are increasing in your hometown, if hospitals are overwhelmed in the area that you’re traveling to, and whether anyone in your household is considered high risk for COVID-19. If you change your mind about traveling, check the cancellation policies for major airlines this holiday season.

Before leaving

Getting a flu shot is recommended to prevent the spread of infection during travel. Columbia Health and Barnard Primary Care Health Services are offering free vaccinations upon appointment.

Columbia has also added “travel” as an option when scheduling a COVID-19 test online. Since it can take up to 72 hours for results to come out, you should allot enough time to receive a result before your departure.

Since COVID-19 travel guidelines differ between states, make sure to review regional regulations before you go. Check out the CDC’s travel planner to get guidance on local travel restrictions.


Whichever form of transportation you plan to use, wear a mask at all times and maintain social distancing when possible. To prevent illness, avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth, carry hand sanitizer and disinfectant wipes, and wash your hands often.


When it comes to social events, it is best that invites are limited to people whom you are currently living with. Rules about gatherings vary from state to state. In New York, gatherings, both indoors and outdoors, of up to 10 people are allowed at private residences.

Events should take place outside, but if they are being held indoors, crack a window or door to ventilate the space. If you’re not cooking the meal, try to avoid places where food is being prepared. Encourage your guests to bring their own utensils and use single-use dishes to serve food if possible. Remember to keep your masks on when in close proximity with each other, and wipe down frequently used surfaces regularly.

Many older adults and those with underlying medical conditions will likely be unable to celebrate Thanksgiving with their friends and family this year, so reach out to them through a phone or video call. Even better, instead of holding a formal gathering, you can celebrate the holiday by dropping off different treats and Thanksgiving foods at relatives’ doorsteps and greeting them from a distance.

Returning to campus

If you are returning to campus after spending time at home, the mandatory quarantine lasts for 14 days. However, you are exempt from these guidelines if you are from a state bordering New York. If you are not from a contiguous state, you can opt out of this quarantine by getting tested three days before your arrival in New York, quarantining for three days after that, getting another COVID-19 test on day four, and continuing to quarantine until your results come out. If both tests are negative, you won’t have to quarantine for the full 14 days.

Spending Thanksgiving on campus

Residential dining and retail dining locations on campus will be closed to orders on Thanksgiving. Students currently on campus are encouraged to purchase their Thanksgiving breakfast from John Jay or JJ’s Place on Wednesday. Additionally, students can enjoy a “Thanksgiving Feast to-go” on Thursday if they submitted their order form before Nov. 16.

Alternatively, if you have suitemates, you can try making your own Thanksgiving meal. For a list of college kitchen-friendly recipes that use ingredients you can easily find, check out our article here. You can even take this meal outdoors and have a socially-distanced Thanksgiving picnic at the closest park.

To make sure you’re shopping for groceries safely, keep your trip short and avoid peak shopping times. Mondays at 8 a.m. have been the least-crowded times in recent months, while Wednesday will be the busiest day this week. Furthermore, to maintain social distancing throughout the store, keep your mask on through checkout, avoid touching your face, and thoroughly wash your hands when you get home.

Finally, if you still want to chat with family or visit with friends that are not in the city, plan a virtual meal together. You can try cooking together in real-time while on the call, or even watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade together. What counts is being able to see one another in the safest conditions, whether it be in person or on a screen.

Alternative activities

While Black Friday officially begins the day after Thanksgiving, many stores normally begin their sales a week in advance. This year will look a little different though since many stores like Target, Walmart, and Best Buy will not be opening their doors on Black Friday. Instead, consider online shopping this holiday to maintain social distancing. With both Black Friday and Cyber Monday primarily online this year, make sure to plan your buys ahead of time, and may the fastest shoppers win.

You can also spend Thanksgiving helping your local community by finding volunteer opportunities in the area. From delivering food to seniors, to organizing a no-contact food drive for the food bank, to serving meals at a soup kitchen, there are various volunteer opportunities that you can participate in despite the pandemic.

The Thanksgiving post-meal food coma is real. Instead of passing out on a couch, try going on a walk or hike and take in the fall foliage before we all hunker down for finals. While enjoying the outdoors, just make sure to follow social distancing guidelines. Not only will a walk get you out of the house, but you’ll also escape the questions from relatives about Zoom University and next semester’s plans.

For COVID-19 travel health updates, check the CDC’s Travel Health Notices page.

Staff Writer Emma Cho will be watching the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade virtually this year and can be contacted at Follow her on Twitter @emsoojin.

Staff writer Lina Bennani Karim is back home in Morocco and will most likely spend more time with family over break. She can be contacted at Follow Spectrum on Twitter @CUSpectrum.

Thanksgiving COVID-19 Holiday Pandemic Hotspot
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