1 in 3 parents say holidays with family worth COVID-19 risk, according to U-M poll

Family members carve a turkey. (Pexels)

ANN ARBOR – In a new national poll, one in three parents said the benefits of spending time with family during the holidays outweigh the risks of spreading or contracting COVID-19.

Many families have spent months apart, and as Thanksgiving fast approaches, some said they prioritize continuing Thanksgiving Day traditions over taking steps to reduce risks.

The nationally-representative C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine polled 1,443 parents who have at least one child age 12 or younger.

While more than half said it is very important that their children see extended family members and participate in holiday traditions, three-quarters indicated that it’s important to curb the spread of the virus at family gatherings.

“For many parents, holidays mean sharing special rituals across different generations and opportunities for children to connect with grandparents, cousins, and other relatives,” Mott Poll co-director Sarah Clark said in a statement.

  Like what you’re reading? Sign up for our email newsletter here!

“Our report suggests that while many children have spent less time with relatives during the pandemic, some parents may have a hard time foregoing holiday gatherings in order to reduce COVID-19 risks.”

Clark said that half of parents said the pandemic has significantly decreased the number of times their children see extended family members.

Infographic on family gatherings over Thanksgiving during the pandemic. (Michigan Medicine)

Clark said that families may need to consider safer, alternative ways to celebrate in order to keep loved ones -- particularly older adults -- safe, as children return to in-person school in some areas and participate in other community activities.

Among parents who usually spend Thanksgiving with extended family, 61% said they still plan to gather over Thanksgiving. However, only 18% plan to include people traveling from out of state, even though 40% said their holiday generally involves people traveling long distances.

Although more than half of parents said they still plan to gather with family, high risk behaviors did change how they would handle the situation.

Eighty-eight percent of parents said if a family member had any COVID-19 symptoms or exposure, they would ask them not to attend a Thanksgiving meal. Two-thirds of respondents said they would not invite certain family members if they knew they had engaged in risky behaviors, such as not wearing masks.

According to Michigan Medicine, parents should ask whether school-age family members are participating in face-to-face classes and activities. If they are, they should ask how strictly each institution follows COVID-19 precautions.

Although uncomfortable, Clark said parents should ask tough questions.

Three-quarters of parents said they will try to limit contact at their Thanksgiving gathering between children and high-risk guests, including the elderly and those with medical conditions. Two-thirds of parents also said they will ask guests to maintain ample social distance during gatherings.

This, Clark said, could be a challenge.

“It may be difficult to maintain distance between children and high risk adults throughout a multi-day visit or even during a lengthy dinner,” Clark said in a statement. “Parents should be realistic about how feasible it will be to limit contact and think carefully about whether to gather in person with high-risk family members.”

According to Michigan Medicine, parents should talk to children about masks and proper social distancing, including limiting yelling or singing, which can easily spread viruses. Clark also recommended that children spend as much of the day as they can outdoors to minimize possible spread.

For those planning on forgoing in-person gatherings with extended family over Thanksgiving, Clark proposed the following alternative ideas:

  • Talking with children about their favorite Thanksgiving foods, decorations or activities, and then using that input to plan a virtual celebration that includes family members in different locations.
  • If children mention a particular memorable holiday decoration displayed by grandparents, parents can encourage them to create their own version at home.
  • If children favor a family member’s pumpkin pie, parents can help children make it at home, possibly with video calls with grandparents and other family members who can coach them through the process.
  • Arranging a group call or virtual gathering at a specific time for extended family to share stories or to have a family member give a blessing before Thanksgiving dinner.

“We all know that large public gatherings carry great risks of spreading COVID-19. But small and casual social gatherings where people feel most ‘safe’ are also part of what has been fueling transmission,” Clark said in a statement.

“With COVID-19 cases increasing in every state, it is essential that all family members do their part to prevent further spread. That may mean celebrating the holidays a little differently this year.”

About the Author:

Meredith has worked for WDIV since August 2017 and was voted one of Washtenaw County's best journalists in 2019 by eCurrent's readers. She covers the community of Ann Arbor and has a Master's degree in International Broadcast Journalism from City University London, UK.