To: Massachusetts General Hospital Cancer Center Patients

As we approach Thanksgiving this year, we are grateful for the outpouring of support our hospital community has received during the ongoing response to the COVID-19 pandemic. Unfortunately, the virus continues to be widespread in New England, and we need your help. For your safety and the safety of our community, our recommendation is to stay home this Thanksgiving. We believe this recommendation is an extension of your usual medical care and reflects our commitment to your health.

Thanksgiving is always a day to express gratitude for our blessings. We want you to be able to enjoy many years of good health. While we all would like to celebrate with family and friends, this year, we need to be extremely cautious and stay away from those outside our immediate household. This year, with COVID-19 rapidly increasing every day throughout our country, we need a different holiday plan. Consider “seeing” family and friends over video feeds (i.e., Zoom or FaceTime) or similar technology. If you must see people in person, we recommend being outdoors, distanced by at least 6 feet, masked at all times, and not eating together. If you remove your mask or others remove theirs, it puts you at very high risk for disease transmission.

With numbers increasing throughout Massachusetts and people choosing to travel during the holiday, including students returning from college, even with routine testing, sharing a meal with people outside your household is a recipe for unintentional harm. You may find this link from the CDC helpful.

If you decide, nevertheless, not to stay home, we want to share some FAQs and harm reduction practices to decrease the risk to you, your loved ones, and our entire community:

What if everyone quarantines for 14 days before Thanksgiving?

You need to make sure everyone who plans to join you for Thanksgiving is quarantining very strictly. Proper quarantine is 14 days of isolation from anyone outside your immediate household. You can see others outside with a mask as long as you are 6 feet away at all times. Everyone who will attend the meal should follow this protocol. People flying in for the holiday within the past two weeks cannot quarantine. If there are any breaches in quarantine, everyone is at risk.

Does a test on Tuesday or Wednesday before Thanksgiving replace quarantine?

No. If you are hoping to use a testing strategy to shorten a quarantine duration, you might consider a 5-7 day quarantine accompanied by back-to-back COVID-19 tests spaced three days apart and within 72 hours of departure/dinner/gathering for everyone involved. Many tests available outside the Mass General Brigham system have a false negative rate of 10-30%, hence the need for repeat testing.

Does a negative test mean we are safe?

No, the current high rates of disease in the community puts people are risk because they could be incubating the virus or have a false negative test.

Can I safely remove my mask for a meal?

No. Without everyone undergoing proper quarantine, we would advocate for a mask all the times when within 6 feet of others. Eating outdoors is safer but still risky unless truly distanced. Sadly, this means not eating together.

Are temperatures or checking for symptoms sufficient?

No. Almost 40% of those who are infected have no symptoms and this is more common with younger age groups.

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As always, please contact your care team with any questions. May you all have a healthy and safe Thanksgiving.

Best regards and stay safe,

Mass General Cancer Center