Maskless Thanksgiving dinners can happen in Toronto but hosts should ask about vaccination status, top doc says

But as the threat of the Delta variant looms, experts say Canadians planning on hosting Thanksgiving gatherings should proceed with caution and avoid having large, indoor gatherings with unvaccinated guests. (Pexels)

Thanksgiving gatherings that were largely put on hold in 2020 can return this year but residents should be keeping their invite lists small and asking their guests about their vaccination status, Toronto's top doctor says.

Medical Officer of Health Dr. Eileen de Villa made the comment during a briefing on Wednesday afternoon.

She said that small maskless gatherings among people from different households can go ahead this year so long as everybody is fully vaccinated.

But if there are unvaccinated guests, including children who are not yet eligible to get the vaccine, de Villa said that hosts should be “creative” and consider outdoor events instead.

She said that symptomatic individuals should also stay home, even if they just have a runny nose.

“Certainly what I'm suggesting to people is to ask about vaccinations,” she said. “Where there is some degree of concern around unvaccinated individuals or those for whom their vaccination status isn’t clear reduced risk can be achieved by having more outdoor focused events. I think we can get creative around what it means to get together for Thanksgiving and certainly having outdoor events and getting together, which is really what Thanksgiving is about, can be done more successfully and more safely in an outdoor environment.”

In 2020 public health officials strongly urged residents to avoid holding indoor Thanksgiving gatherings amid concerns about the spread of COVID-19 and the then worsening second wave of the pandemic..

That, however, was before any vaccines were approved by Health Canada and de Villa said that the wide uptake in Toronto will allow for a more normal Thanksgiving this year.

Her comments largely align with the advice being given by other public health officials across the Greater Toronto Area.

Earlier on Wednesday, Peel Region Medical Officer of Health Dr. Lawrence Loh told reporters that while Thanksgiving will not be “fully back to normal” this year, it should look “very different” from last year with the return of many traditions.

“While virtual gatherings still remain safest if you are vaccinated you can consider gathering with the same precautions that we have been using through the summer: prefer he outdoors if you can but if you are indoors with a group of fully vaccinated individuals and you feel comfortable and nobody is symptomatic you can consider removing masks,” he said. “If some of your guests remain unvaccinated in any setting we still continue to encourage you to mask consistently and distance where possible for their safety. Remember as well that smaller events with fewer guests means safer events.”

As officials encourage residents to consider the vaccination status of their guests when hosting Thanksgiving gatherings, Toronto is rolling out a new initiative dubbed “VaxGiving” to get as many people vaccinated over the holiday weekend as possible.

The initiative will see more than 18 clinics held at TTC stations, malls, schools, community centres and libraries across the city. There will also be a pop up clinic held in St. Jamestown between 6 p.m. and 11 p.m. on Friday.

As well, the city is opening up six recurring mobile clinics which will take place at the same time and in the same location on a weekly basis.

“All of these clinics are in areas where we are working to drive up vaccination rates which are lower than the average in the rest of the city. We're going where the data says we need to go and we know that these locations will be easy for people in those areas to visit,” Mayor John Tory said during Wednesday’s briefing. “That's the point of the hyperlocal push to go where we know people still need to get vaccinated and make it as accessible and as easy as possible for them to get vaccinated.”

Ontario’s Chief Medical Officer of Health Dr. Kieran Moore is expected to hold a press conference on Thursday where formal guidance on the upcoming Thanksgiving holiday and Halloween is expected to be shared.