Covid-19 Cases Surged After Canadian Thanksgiving in October. Will Americans Heed Their Northern Neighbor’s Warning?

Two out of five Americans plan to gather in large groups for the holiday, raising public health concerns

A photograph of a table taken from above. Table has dried leaves, a white plate with a fork and knife, a roasted chicken with orange slices in a glass tray. There is a a pumpkin with a blue disposable mask draped over the stem at the top of the image.
Canadians gathered around their dining room tables for Thanksgiving on October 12, and two weeks later, authorities reported a spike in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations. Marco Verch Professional Photographer via Flickr under CC BY 2.0

After months of social distancing, lockdowns and quarantining, Americans are craving the warmth and joy of being surrounded by loved ones during the holiday season. As Thanksgiving nears, however, Covid-19 cases in the United States are already at an all-time high.

Perhaps a preview of the country's post-holiday fate lies north: Canada, which celebrates Thanksgiving on the second Monday of October, offers a cautionary tale for Americans planning to celebrate next week. Canadian Thanksgiving fell on October 12 this year, and two weeks later, authorities reported a spike in Covid-19 cases and hospitalizations—most likely as a result of people being together indoors during the holiday, reports Alex Fitzpatrick for Time magazine.

"It’s not that we were flat and all of a sudden Thanksgiving happened and there we see an increase," Laura Rosella, an epidemiologist at the Dalla Lana School of Public Health at the University of Toronto, tells Time. "The reason why we’re fairly confident Thanksgiving did increase cases is that we saw our highest numbers yet in the two weeks following Thanksgiving, which is consistent with the incubation period, when people would show symptoms and get reported."

Nearly two weeks after Thanksgiving, the two most populous provinces in Canada set new records for Covid-19 cases. As of October 25, Quebec, the epicenter of disease transmission in Canada, reached 100,000 total recorded cases for the year. And Ontario logged more than 1,000 cases daily, setting the province's new record for the greatest number of infections per day, reports Brooklyn Neustaeter for CTV News. At this rate, Ontario is on track to reach, or even exceed, Europe's level of coronavirus crisis, report Paula Newton and Leah Asmelash for CNN.

"In the spring, everybody was scared," Sumon Chakrabarti, an infectious-disease specialist at Trillium Health Partners, a hospital network in Canada. "They barely went for jogs. That’s not the case now. I’ve heard people say, 'I don’t care if I get sick. I’d rather die than not see my grandkids.'"

For Americans, Thanksgiving is only a week away, but the U.S. is one of the hardest hit country in the world, reports Katie Camero for the Miami Herald. Cases are already skyrocketing in the U.S., and nearly 250,000 Americans have died from the virus so far. As the weather gets cooler and outdoor gatherings become intolerable, people will be tempted to socialize inside, further fueling the surge of coronavirus cases.

A survey from the Ohio State University suggests that nearly two out of five Americans are planning to gather for Thanksgiving with ten or more people, Time reports. But it's hard to practice social distancing at indoor social gatherings. People get up and move around, they eat and drink with their masks off and air circulation in homes is difficult to manage.

"All this virus needs is close contact for a prolonged period of time," Matthew Oughton, an attending physician in the infectious diseases division of Montreal’s Jewish General Hospital, tells Time. But for those who choose to gather anyways, Oughton says that a little distancing is better than none at all, and dining outdoors is the safest option. Plus, several smaller tables that are further apart from each other are preferable to one large table. But the best option, he says, is to connect with loved ones virtually.

"It’s not the same thing as being able to see them and hug them in person, but then again,” he tells Time, "I wouldn’t want to have a nice Thanksgiving and then find out two weeks later that [a family member] landed in the hospital."

Get the latest stories in your inbox every weekday.