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COVID-19 vaccines and outdoors make for a safe Thanksgiving: MLHU

Medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie says it's just as important to have everyone fully vaccinated as it is to gather outdoors this Thanksgiving weekend. Geoff Robins / The Canadian Press

Canadians are getting ready for their second Thanksgiving amid the COVID-19 pandemic, but before anyone whips out the turkey and pumpkin pie, the Middlesex-London Health Unit (MLHU) is asking folks to keep a few things in mind.

MLHU medical officer of health Dr. Chris Mackie says the most important step toward reducing the risk of spreading COVID-19 at any Thanksgiving gathering is to have as many people vaccinated as possible.

Read more: Southwest Ontario health units implement joint vaccine mandate for kids’ 12+ organized sports

“Equally important is to have the gatherings outdoors. Getting outdoors is about 20 times safer than gathering indoors, which is on par with the vaccination,” Mackie said during a media briefing on Thursday.

“So if you’re outdoors and vaccinated, you’re very low risk. Anyone who is unvaccinated certainly should try to avoid gathering indoors.”

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More guidance for celebrating a safe Thanksgiving can be found on the MLHU’s website. The guidance is provided in a list of gathering options ranked from “safer” to “least safe.”

The safer option includes celebrating with your household while inviting guests to join virtually.

A cautious option includes small outdoor gatherings where everyone is vaccinated.

The MLHU advises taking extra steps with this option, such as having guests bring their own meals so that nobody has to share or having one person tasked with serving food. People are also advised to maintain distance from those outside their household or wear masks if there’s no room for distancing.

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The MLHU considers large gatherings, both indoor and outdoor, to be the least safe option. Under this option, health officials advise against gathering with anyone who is unvaccinated or inviting a large number of guests into your home.

Sharing or food drink, as well as hosting large gatherings that lack physical distancing, are also advised against.

Read more: Unvaccinated relatives? Here are the risks around the Thanksgiving table

Last year’s Thanksgiving drew concerns about post-secondary students travelling home before bringing an infection back to London, but Mackie says things are different now that vaccines are here.

On top of a high vaccine uptake among students, driven in part by vaccine policies at Fanshawe College and Western University, the medical officer of health says Ontario is no longer dealing with COVID-19 hot spots as it did in 2020.

“International travel is another story, we still have travel advisories from the federal government (for) anywhere outside of Canada, and in particular the U.S. border being closed still, so that is not encouraged,” Mackie said.

“Do travel in Ontario to see family. Again, if you can keep the gatherings outdoors, particularly when there are multiple generations involved, that will help keep things even safer.”

Click to play video: 'Ontario medical officer suggests vaccinated individuals do not have to mask for Thanksgiving' Ontario medical officer suggests vaccinated individuals do not have to mask for Thanksgiving
Ontario medical officer suggests vaccinated individuals do not have to mask for Thanksgiving – Oct 5, 2021

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