ANN ARBOR – In a new national poll, one in three parents said the benefits of spending time with the family during the holidays outweigh the risk of COVID-19 spreading or becoming infected.
Many families have spent months apart, and with the rapid approach to Thanksgiving, some say continuing the traditions of Thanksgiving is a priority over taking steps to reduce risk.
A nationally representative CS Mott Children’s Hospital Child Health Survey in Michigan Medicine interviewed 1,443 parents with at least one child 12 years of age or younger.
While more than half say it is very important for their children to see larger family members and participate in festive traditions, three-quarters say it is important to curb the spread of the virus at family gatherings.
“For many parents, the holidays mean sharing special rituals between different generations, as well as an opportunity for children to keep in touch with grandparents, cousins and other relatives,” said Sarah Clark, co-director of Mott Poll.
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“Our report suggests that although many children spent less time than their relatives at the time of the epidemic, some parents may have a hard time attending festive gatherings to reduce the risks of COVID-19.”
Clark said half of the parents said the epidemic had significantly reduced the number of times their children saw extensive family members.
Clark said families need to consider safer, alternative ways of celebrating to keep their loved ones, especially older adults, safe as children return to personal school in some areas and participate in other community activities.
Of the parents who usually spend Thanksgiving with a large family, 61% said they still plan to get together on Thanksgiving. Nevertheless, only 18% plan to accommodate travelers from outside the state, despite the fact that 40% say their holidays usually involve long-distance travelers.
Although more than half of the parents said they were still planning a family reunion, the high-risk behavior had changed the way the situation was handled.
Eighty-eight percent of parents said that if a family member has any symptoms or exposure to COVID-19, they are asked not to participate in the Thanksgiving meal. Two-thirds of respondents said they would not invite certain family members if they knew they had engaged in risky behaviors, such as not wearing a mask.
According to Michigan Medicine, parents should ask if school-age family members attend personal meetings and activities. If so, they should ask how closely each institution follows the precautions of COVID-19.
Although uncomfortable, Clark says parents have to ask tough questions.
Three-quarters of parents said they are trying to limit contact between children and high-risk guests at the Thanksgiving gathering, including the elderly and those with a medical condition. Two-thirds of parents also said they keep ample social distance from guests during gatherings.
Clark says this could be a challenge.
“It can be difficult to maintain the distance between children and high-risk adults during a multi-day visit, or even during a long dinner,” Clark said in a statement. “Parents need to be realistic about how possible it will be to limit contact and carefully consider whether to gather in person with high-risk family members.”
According to Michigan Medicine, parents should talk to their children about masks and appropriate social distance, including restrictions on yelling or singing, which can easily spread viruses. Clark also suggested that children spend as much of the day outdoors as possible to minimize potential spread.
Clark suggested the following alternative ideas for those who want to leave face-to-face meetings with a large family on Thanksgiving.
- Talk to the kids about their favorite Thanksgiving food, decorations, or activities, and then use this input to plan a virtual holiday that includes family members in different places.
- If children mention a certain memorable holiday decoration that their grandparents present, parents can encourage them to make their own version at home.
- If children prefer the family member’s pumpkin cake, parents can help the kids make the home, possibly with video calls with grandparents and other family members who can train them in the process.
- Organize a group call or virtual gathering at a specific time for the extended family to share stories or for the family member to give a blessing before Thanksgiving dinner.
“We all know that big public gatherings carry big risks in the spread of COVID-19. But small and occasional social gatherings where people feel “safest” are also part of what fueled the transmission, ”Clark said in a statement.
“As COVID-19 cases are on the rise in every state, it is imperative that all family members do their part to prevent further spread. This could mean celebrating the holidays a little differently this year. “
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