The state health commissioner is strongly recommending Hoosiers not host or attend large Thanksgiving gatherings next week and instead celebrate the holiday only with those already living in their household.
Dr. Kristina Box emphasized Wednesday that "holiday celebrations need to look different this year," since Indiana hospitals and health care providers already are struggling to keep up with record numbers of COVID-19 infections and hospitalizations.
"To be frank, staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others," Box said. "Even with friends and family, people need to be cautious during the holidays so they don't add to the trend of increasing cases."
Box said for those determined to include people outside their household in Thanksgiving, they perhaps could prepare a favorite family recipe and exchange it with a neighbor in a no-contact, socially distant way.
She urged Hoosiers planning to travel anyway for a big Thanksgiving family gathering to reconsider their decision and forgo those cherished holiday traditions until the coronavirus pandemic recedes.
"There will be more than 5,000 empty seats at Indiana Thanksgiving tables this year because of COVID-19," Box said. "Let's all make those hard choices to prevent that number from growing, so Hoosier families are able to celebrate for years to come."
For Hoosiers determined to ignore her advice, Box said they should begin planning now to reduce their risk of catching or spreading COVID-19 within their family or after returning home.
In particular, Box said individuals absolutely should stay home if they feel ill or have any COVID-19 symptoms, and high-risk individuals, especially residents of nursing homes or long-term care facilities, should not join their families for Thanksgiving.
"These Hoosiers are among our most vulnerable, both in age and underlying medical conditions, and we want to do everything possible to protect them," Box said.
Everyone else attending a Thanksgiving dinner should be sure to regularly wash their hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer, frequently clean high-touch surfaces, increase ventilation by cracking a window, wear a face mask, and try to maintain 6 feet of distance from non-household members, Box said.
In addition, she said Hoosiers traveling for Thanksgiving could get tested for COVID-19 this week, so they'll have their results back in time to change their plans if they are infected.
Gov. Eric Holcomb said he had to "call an audible" this week on his family's Thanksgiving plans after several state police officers assigned to his security detail tested positive for COVID-19, forcing the governor and Janet Holcomb, Indiana's first lady, to quarantine at home until they also get tested.
"All families are going to have to make risk assessments according to their family, not just needs, but considerations," Holcomb said.
Box also is recommending Hoosiers try to avoid big sales in crowded stores before or after Thanksgiving Day, and instead grab those bargains online and have the items delivered to their homes — even if Black Friday shopping is a family tradition.
"Be willing to make the hard choices now to protect the people you love," Box said.