By Cara Murez
MONDAY, Nov. 23, 2020 (HealthDay News) -- As COVID-19 cases surge throughout the United States and the holiday season kicks off with Thanksgiving on Thursday, families are faced with a challenging choice.
Do they skip family gatherings and the usual way they celebrate their traditions? Or do they risk bringing the novel coronavirus to their extended family of loved ones?
In a new nationwide poll of 1,443 parents, about one in three said the benefits of gathering with families for the holidays outweighed the risk of spreading the virus.
The annual C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health revealed that parents with at least one child aged 12 or under were wrestling with competing priorities.
About half said it was very important for their child to see relatives and share in family holiday traditions. About three-quarters of parents polled also said it was important to prevent the spread of COVID-19 at family gatherings.
"The particular challenge for Thanksgiving is it tends not to be, 'Oh, let me stop in for a quick bite,'" said Sarah Clark, a research scientist for Michigan Medicine, in Ann Arbor. "It's a long celebration and it's really hard to keep up, even if you're really committed to taking those kinds of precautions, it's really hard to keep that up for an entire day into the evening."
Among parents whose children typically see extended family on Thanksgiving, about 61% planned to meet in-person, though fewer than usual planned to include relatives who had traveled from afar.
Parents planning in-person festivities said they planned to rely on several strategies to keep their kids and guests safe.
Almost nine out of 10 said they would ask people not to attend if they had any COVID-19 symptoms or known exposure. About two-thirds said they did not plan to invite relatives who they suspected had not been practicing safety precautions.
About two-thirds said they would ask guests to maintain social distance, and about three-quarters said they would try to limit contact between their child and older guests who are at highest risk of serious illness, the poll found.
It can be risky for kids to reunite with vulnerable relatives, especially if they attend in-person school or extracurricular activities, Clark said.
"With where we are at this moment in time, my advice would be find a substitute way to prioritize your children's engagement with the family holiday traditions in a way that doesn't involve different households getting together in person," Clark suggested.
That advice was similar to an advisory issued last week by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, which recommended people celebrate the holiday at home with their household.
People could still continue their traditions, but switch them up a little, Clark suggested. Everyone can make a family dish together via video call, for example. Get the kids to talk about what they will miss, then adapt to include a variation of that, whether it's a particular food or a holiday decoration, she said.
"When you involve the kids in trying to come up with alternatives, it gives them back a little sense of control," Clark said.
Dr. Amna Husain, a pediatrician and owner of Pure Direct Pediatrics in Marlboro, N.J., suggested putting these holidays in the context of all the other changes in 2020.
"We really have had to shift our frame of thinking and our gears quite a bit and pivot," Husain said. "This is one of those times where we're asking society to pivot again, from their traditions, from everything that we knew and thought and loved, to think of really the greater good and the public health."
Husain suggested video chatting as a new tradition people could start and continue even in future years with relatives who aren't able to attend holiday celebrations in person.
"We can still keep the tradition of saying what you're grateful for. We can still all go around the table and say, we're grateful. We might have Grandpa and Grandma on a laptop," Husain said. "We're all experiencing it in a different sort of way."
Even with the stay-at-home recommendations, some people will gather with others from outside of their household, Husain acknowledged. Those who do should keep their guest lists as small as possible and abide by their state's laws, she advised.
Husain also recommended seating people from different households at separate tables, apart from one another, and wearing face masks when not eating. Hand sanitizer should be available for everyone. And, Husain added, if you're traveling, it's best to go by car with just members of your own household.
"It breaks my heart a little bit, of course, because I'm a parent, too, but I also know that this is not forever," she said. "November 2019 was very different than November 2020. And I do think November 2021 is going to be different than this year."
The poll was administered in August, and the margin of error is plus or minus 3 percentage points.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently issued this advisory about holiday travel.
SOURCES: Sarah Clark, MPH, co-director, C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health and research scientist, department of pediatrics, Michigan Medicine, Ann Arbor; Amna Husein, MD, pediatrician/owner, Pure Direct Pediatrics, Marlboro, N.J.; Michigan Medicine -- University of Michigan, C.S. Mott Children's Hospital National Poll on Children's Health, news release, Nov. 23, 2020