COVID-19 Thanksgiving

A recent Harris Poll found that vaccination status is likely to influence how individuals celebrate the holidays. Taken in September by more than 2,000 U.S. adults, including more than 1,400 who identified as vaccinated, the poll found that half the vaccinated respondents were "extremely or considerably hesitant to spend the holidays with unvaccinated family members or friends." (Dreamstime/TNS)

Thanksgiving can be a time of joyous celebration or a disaster waiting to happen, and Tuolumne County officials want everyone to stay safe. 

Officials recommend gathering outdoors, wearing a mask in large crowds or among the unvaccinated, taking every precaution when cooking or deep frying a turkey, abstaining from putting that grease down the sink and, for everyone’s sake, designate a driver if you are going to drink. 

Thanksgiving day in Sonora should bring mild temperatures according to Weather.com. The day will be mostly sunny and 64 degrees. Nighttime temperatures are at 40 degrees. There is zero chance of rain in the forecast as of Tuesday.

The following are some tips provided by local officials to hopefully avert any potential disasters and celebrate the holiday safely.

COVID-19

In light of increasing COVID-19 numbers and relatively mild temperatures, County Health Officer Dr. Eric Sergienko suggested Sonorans take their holiday festivities outdoors.

“The weather is going to be beautiful on Thursday,” he said. “Move your Thanksgiving celebration outside.”

Knowing that not all people are comfortable with dining and celebrating their turkey day outside, Sergienko suggests gatherings be kept small. If your family is large, he recommends putting guests at “kid tables” or in smaller groups. 

Households who are hosting the celebration should make a “guest list” in the event of illness following the gathering, he said, so that other guests can be notified of any COVID-19 cases. 

“Early notification allows for early isolation and quarantine decreased transmission,” he said. 

Fires

Thanksgiving is like the Super Bowl for Cal Fire.

However, unlike the big game, there are no winners.

“It is the leading holiday when we see more structure fires, more home fires,” Jaime Williams, a spokeswoman for the agency, said. 

Thanksgiving day is the peak day for home-cooking fires, followed by the day before, then Christmas and Christmas Eve, per the National Fire Protection Association (NFPA). 

Deep frying turkey is particularly dangerous.

Every year, deep fryers are responsible for five deaths, 60 injuries and $15 million dollars worth of damage, according to Williams and the NFPA.

A deep fryer should never be used indoors or left unattended. It should only be used on level ground in an open outdoor area, and the oil level should never be higher than the max line, Williams said. 

When cooking anything, always have a class ABC fire extinguisher, easily accessible in the kitchen. Williams said smoke alarms should be tested once a month to make sure it is in good working order and to always keep an eye on what is cooking on the stove or baking in the oven.

“Turkeys take a long time to cook,” she advised. “Set a timer to remind yourself to check on it periodically.”

If there is a cooking fire, use the lid of a pan to quell the flames, put salt or baking soda on the fire and move everyone to safety before calling 911, Williams said. 

Cooking is the leading cause of all Thanksgiving fires, 54% of which happen between 10 a.m. and 5 p.m., when many people are preparing the holiday dinner, according to FEMA’s National Data Center.

“Thanksgiving Day is one of our busiest days responding to hom- cooking fires, and we want to reduce that number by practicing fire safety,” Cal Fire Chief Thom Porter said in a news release. “There are so many things that can happen in your kitchen while you are preparing meals, and it is easy to become distracted while cooking for family and friends. 

“On Thanksgiving Day, with all the commotion near hot appliances, make sure to always stand next to the oven or stove when you are cooking to avoid any mishaps in the kitchen.”

Grease

One of the common mistakes people make on Thanksgiving and throughout the year is pouring grease from cooking down the garbage disposal, said Lisa Westbrook, spokeswoman for Tuolumne Utilities District, the county’s largest water and sewer agency.

“A lot of people think their garbage disposal is a garbage can. It’s not,” she said. “Grease can clog the pipes in your kitchen. It may not happen on Thanksgiving Day, but trust me it will.”

The district would like to remind county residents how to properly dispose of fats, oils and grease in an effort to avoid a plumbing emergency on Thanksgiving. 

Avoid pouring fats or vegetable cooking oils down the drain, because liquid fats solidify in the pipes and create clogs, the district said in an annual news release warning of the pitfalls of improper grease disposal.

After the grease has cooled, scrape the grease into a container with a tight-fitting lid and let it solidify in the refrigerator before putting it in the trash. 

The district also said never put hard-to-grind items in the garbage disposal, including poultry skins, egg shells, carrots, celery, pumpkin pulp, potato skins, banana peels or pasta. 

 

Road safety

The California Highway Patrol will kick off a Maximum Enforcement Period (MEP) beginning at 6 p.m. Wednesday and continuing through 11:59 p.m. on Sunday, CHP Sgt. Brian Pennings said.

Thanksgiving weekend is traditionally one of the busiest travel times of the year. All available CHP officers will be on patrol during the MEP and looking for unsafe driving practices, including seat belt violations, speeding, distracted driving and signs of motorists driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs.

“We don’t tell people not to drive drunk, we tell them not to drink and drive, period,” Pennings said.“You are affected the minute your lips touch the can, bottle, or cup and you take a drink. Alcohol is a depressant, as such it dulls all senses, including your sense of reason.”

Thirty-three people died on roadways within the CHP’s jurisdiction throughout the state last year during the Thanksgiving MEP, the agency said. Fourteen were reportedly not wearing seat belts.

“Wherever you choose to celebrate this Thanksgiving, drive safely,” CHP Commissioner Amanda Ray said. “When getting behind the wheel, make certain you and all your passengers buckle up before heading out, and remember to always avoid distractions.”

Pennings said the Thanksgiving MEP statistics for 2019 included 42 fatalities on roadways, 27 of those in the CHP’s jurisdiction. Of the total killed, 11 were not wearing a seatbelt.  

The agency also made 868 arrests for driving under the influence of alcohol or drugs during last year’s Thanksgiving MEP, the news release said. The number during the same time period in 2019 was 867.

“DUI is a bad thing that happens to a lot of good people,” Pennings said. “If you are going to drink, fine, don’t drive. Be responsible, plan ahead, get a ride, or stay the night.”

Pennings is hoping this year’s Thanksgiving MEP statistics are much lower than the past two years.

“We want everybody to be patient, plan ahead and have a safe and wonderful Thanksgiving,” he said. 

Contact Rebecca Howes at rhowes@uniondemocrat.net or (805) 450-8961

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