“I would strongly urge — not just for your sake, but for the sake of your children, your mother, your father, your sisters, your brothers, whoever you get together with for Thanksgiving — to think about this,” the president-elect said

By Sean Neumann
November 17, 2020 05:12 PM
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President-elect Joe Biden
| Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty

Like many Americans, President-elect Joe Biden is planning to scale down his family’s Thanksgiving plans.

Biden, 77, said Monday that he and his family are planning a get-together of no more than 10 people, per health guidelines, while all will be wearing masks, socially distanced and tested beforehand.

“I just want to make sure we’re able to be together next Thanksgiving, next Christmas,” Biden told reporters at a news conference, saying he and wife, Dr. Jill Biden, have been discussing how to host a safe holiday gathering amid the pandemic.

The novel coronavirus (COVID-19) is surging this month, as cases are rising in many parts of the country and breaking grim records by the day.

The U.S. has had at least 246,879 deaths from the respiratory illness so far this year, out of 11.2 million cases, according to a New York Times tracker. In the last week, the Times reports there has been an average of about 158,000 new cases per day — a 28 percent increase from the week before.

The spike has caused both federal health officials and lawmakers to call on Americans to take more precaution and scale back social gatherings, particularly indoors, in an effort to limit the spread of the virus.

“There should be no group of more than 10 people in one room inside the home,” Biden said Monday. “That’s what they’re telling me.”

President-elect Joe Biden
| Credit: Joe Raedle/Getty

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend that people wear masks, limit contact to those within their own household and consider celebrating the holiday via video chat or other remote options.

If there are gatherings, the CDC recommends attendees use single-use utensils, bring their own food, wash their hands and thoroughly clean and limit guests.

“Limit it to a maximum of 10 people, socially distanced and wearing masks,” Biden reiterated on Monday.

“I would strongly urge — not just for your sake, but for the sake of your children, your mother, your father, your sisters, your brothers, whoever you get together with for Thanksgiving — to think about this,” he added.

For the holidays this year, Americans “have to modify what we’re doing,” Dr. William Schaffner, professor of preventive medicine and infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University, recently told PEOPLE. That means being careful about the attendance of elderly grandparents and relatives with preexisting conditions, who are at a high-risk of developing severe cases of COVID-19.

“We don't want to give the virus while we're giving thanks,” Schaffner said.

Joe Biden, wearing a face mask, addresses reporters in Wilmington, Delaware, on June 30.
| Credit: Patrick Semansky/AP/Shutterstock

For those determined to have some sort of Thanksgiving gathering, Schaffner advised quarantining for two weeks ahead of time, skipping any hugs or kisses, spacing out the dinner table as much as possible and wearing masks when people aren’t eating or drinking. But even those modifications carry enormous risks.

The CDC also recommends circulating as much outside air indoors as is feasible, with open windows and doors, and to consider a HEPA filter.

Bringing the Thanksgiving table outdoors entirely, where COVID-19 spreads less easily, is another option, but Schaffner emphasized that people still need to take precautions.

“Dining outdoors helps, but it’s not a cure-all,” he said. “You should be doing all the social-distancing and the mask-wearing outdoors. Remember, in order to reduce your risk, there's no single magic thing you can do. You have to do a whole series of things quite consistently.”

President-Elect Joe Biden (left) and his family

Biden's position is at odds with some senior officials in the Trump administration as outgoing President Donald Trump has openly waffled on the importance of steps like mask-wearing, saying that the virus should not "dominate" people's lives, while he has elevated some advisers over others like Dr. Anthony Fauci.

Dr. Scott Atlas, a recently-appointed member of Trump’s coronavirus task force who has no experience battling pandemics, was criticized this week after calling on Michigan residents to “rise up” against the state’s latest COVID-19 emergency orders.

Biden, who erred on the side of caution throughout the 2020 campaign, took direct issue with the Trump official's comments while promoting holiday precautions.

“The idea that the president’s now-existing, remaining adviser on COVID is saying that they should resist, I’m like what the hell’s the matter with these guys?” Biden said Monday. “What is the matter with them?”

• With JULIE MAZZIOTTA