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How Tennessee doctors are celebrating Thanksgiving safely

With COVID-19 still spreading in the community, doctors are making changes to their Thanksgiving plans. The recommendations vary by family.

KNOX COUNTY, Tenn. — For Dr. William Schaffner, Thanksgiving is typically an opportunity to get together with his extended family. But this year, the professor of infectious diseases at Vanderbilt University Medical Center said his family is being extra careful.

"This is 2020. This is a COVID-19 Thanksgiving," he said. "We hope next year will be better, but this year, we should be careful."

He said there are a few key guidelines to keep in mind when planning a Thanksgiving gathering. First, people should identify who will be in attendance.

"Will there be older people there? Aunt Susie with her diabetes and Uncle Frank with his chronic lung disease?" said Schaffner. "Perhaps those high-risk people should stay at home, or at least some of them."

Second, people should find a safe place where everyone can get together. Typically, outdoors is safer than indoors. Maintaining at least 6 feet of distance between households at Thanksgiving dinner can help too.

"When we're together, maybe unless we're eating we're wearing our masks," said Dr. Schaffner. "Maybe we could have a little separate table off to the side so we can all have space between us at the table."

His family will gather for a short period of time prior to Thanksgiving dinner. They'll keep their distance while wearing masks — and then go home to eat separately. 

"Some of us have gray hair. There's actually someone with an underlying condition in our family," Schaffner said. "We're being very careful this year ... No one wishes to give the virus while we're giving thanks."

RELATED: Tips for safely celebrating Thanksgiving amid COVID-19 pandemic

10News asked Knoxville's top doctors what their Thanksgiving plans were.

Dr. Mark Browne, Covenant Health's chief medical officer and senior vice president, said he's most concerned about congregate dining. 

"Large groups of people around the Thanksgiving table puts all of us at risk," he said. "That's a decision we're all going to have to make."

Dr. Joe Childs, East Tennessee Children's Hospital's chief medical officer, said he was planning a moderate-sized family gathering.

"Everybody has to assess that risk for themselves," he said. "We've all talked among our family members that are gathering about our activities, how compliant we are with the five core actions and the necessity for us to make sure that none of us are feeling ill or have any symptoms."

Dr. Frank Beuerlein of Tennova Healthcare said he was hoping for the warm weather to continue so they could eat outside and have a bit more space to socially distance.

"Even if we do end up eating inside with my family, we will try to maybe add extra tables and spread out a bit a bit more," he said. "We need to keep those five cores actions front and center."

Dr. Keith Gray, chief medical officer at the University of Tennessee, said he was restricting his Thanksgiving plans to his nuclear family.

"We're going to limit our travel ... I have two college-aged students coming from out of state that will be coming home," he said. "We would not ask the community to do anything that we aren't willing to do ourselves ... We're all compliant with the five core actions and we're all going to demonstrate to the community that we're going to lead by example."