Zoom Is Offering Free Calls for Thanksgiving as Experts Warn Against Family Gatherings

The app seeks to help Americans safely see family on Thanksgiving without the risk of spreading COVID-19

zoom thanksgiving
Zoom gatherings on Thanksgiving. Photo: GETTY

Zoom is stepping up to ensure that people do not put themselves or others at risk on Thanksgiving amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The video conferencing platform announced free calls without a time limit to all users from midnight on Thanksgiving through 6 a.m. on Black Friday.

"As a thank you to our customers, we will be lifting the 40-minute limit for all meetings globally from midnight ET on Nov. 26 through 6 a.m. ET on Nov. 27 so your family gatherings don't get cut short," Zoom tweeted on Nov. 10. "#ZoomTogether/"

Under the app's free plan, Zoom typically limits users to 40 minutes when there are more than two people on the call. Those who choose to avoid the time limit currently pay for a premium account, which is a minimum of $15 a month.

The announcement comes as COVID-19 surges around the United States, prompting health experts to warn against large gatherings.

Every state in the country is currently dealing with increasing numbers of new cases, and the U.S. saw a record 163,402 new infections on Thursday alone, the third-straight day that a new record for daily infections was set.

On Sunday, more than 135,100 new cases were reported, marking the most cases to be reported on a Sunday, according to The New York Times. Hospitalizations have also hit a record high at 69,987, the newspaper reported.

Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, told PEOPLE that Thanksgiving could be dangerous as it's "a wonderful, warm tradition of families and extended families gathering together for prolonged periods of time," creating "the environment in which the COVID virus would like to spread."

Since large gatherings, travel and shared meals could all be hazardous during the pandemic, Schaffner suggested that Americans just spend the holiday with their immediate households, and without elderly grandparents or relatives with preexisting health conditions.

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City officials have also taken a stand to prevent COVID-19 from spreading, including in Chicago, where Mayor Lori Lightfoot recently issued a stay-at-home advisory for at least 30 days and told residents to "cancel the normal Thanksgiving plans."

New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy echoed her sentiments during a press conference on Thursday, asking residents to "limit Thanksgiving" celebrations this year. By Sunday, New Jersey had set a single-day case record, breaking its record from the previous day, according to the Times.

As of Tuesday, there have been over 11.2 million cases and at least 246,879 deaths attributed to coronavirus in the United States, the Times reported.

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from the WHO and local public health departments. PEOPLE has partnered with GoFundMe to raise money for the COVID-19 Relief Fund, a GoFundMe.org fundraiser to support everything from frontline responders to families in need, as well as organizations helping communities. For more information or to donate, click here.

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