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Can You Legally Celebrate Thanksgiving With Family This Year?

A mother and daughter looking happy while standing over a Thanksgiving turkey
By Andrew Leonatti | Last updated on

If you're eating a turkey sandwich on your couch, is it really Thanksgiving?

That's what people across the country are asking themselves as Thanksgiving approaches. Whether you are one of the tens of millions who typically travel for Thanksgiving or your family lives close by, can a Thanksgiving celebration still happen with pandemic-related travel advisories and gathering restrictions in place?

Every State Is Different

It's important to remember that, just like earlier in the pandemic, there are no federal stay-at-home guidelines in place. Many states, however, do still have "safer at home" orders in place. The state, county, or city where you live or wish to visit has to issue an order for there to be any restrictions on your movements.

Many of these orders limit the number of people who can gather for something like a Thanksgiving celebration. For instance:

  • Residents of Alabama must not gather in groups of more than 10, and if you do not live in the same household, you have to stay more than six feet apart.
  • Alaska requires all arrivals to the state to produce a negative COVID-19 test, be tested on arrival, or self-quarantine for 14 days.
  • California limits gatherings to outdoor gatherings of no more than three households.
  • Connecticut caps indoor gatherings at 25 people. The state also maintains a 14-day quarantine for arrivals from states with high infection rates.
  • Hawaii requires proof of a negative test or a 14-day quarantine for new arrivals. Gatherings are limited to 10 people.
  • Massachusetts limits gatherings to 25 people and requiring 14-day quarantine or produce a negative test for arrivals.
  • Minnesota caps indoor gatherings at 10 people.
  • New Mexico bans groups of five or more and requiring self-quarantine upon arrival.
  • New York requires 14-day self-quarantine for arrivals from most other states in the country.
  • Oregon limits social gatherings to 10 people.
  • Washington bans indoor social gatherings of any size.

Some states, however, have greatly relaxed their restrictions. Many states cap indoor social gatherings at 50 people, which won't hamper many Thanksgiving plans other than extremely large families. So it may still be possible for you to hang out with your uncle who always manages to annoy you.

As always, it's important to see what the order in place for your specific location is.

Can the Police Do Anything?

Since the start of the pandemic, many governors and mayors have talked about how they need voluntary compliance from residents to help curb the disease's spread. There are not enough police officers in this country to break up every gathering violating pandemic restrictions.

But they are still trying. Fines are coming for one large party in New York. Patience is wearing thin on the campus of Penn State University. But many crusading sheriffs out there have also said they aren't going to enforce any stay-at-home orders.

So while in many places, the police can stop your Thanksgiving festivities from happening, it's unlikely that they actually will.

While we don't dispense medical advice, we will take this opportunity to note that just because you can get away with something, it doesn't mean that you should try it. And just because something is legal doesn't mean it is safe. Orders are in place for a reason, so be aware of the risks, and maybe think about hitting Mom and Dad, your cousins, and even your annoying uncle up on Zoom instead this year.

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