Thanksgiving might not be officially canceled, but health officials across the country are warning that celebrations of the holiday should at least be modified for safety.

Wisconsin’s top health official warned Oct. 20 that people should scrap any plans for Thanksgiving gatherings because of the rampant spread of the coronavirus in the state.

Andrea Palm, who heads the Wisconsin Department of Health Services, said during a teleconference with reporters that people should limit their Thanksgiving dinners to those in their households.

“We’re in a much worse place now than we were in March and April,” Palm said.

As of Nov. 4, 244,002 people in Wisconsin have tested positive for COVID-19, and 2,156 Wisconsinites have died from it, according to statistics from Wisconsin DHS. 52,480 cases were listed as active at the time.

With warnings from experts that COVID-19 is likely to get worse before it gets better, many are modifying their plans for the upcoming holiday season, cancelling all or part of their traditional celebrations or finding alternative ways to dine and enjoy time with family or friends.

Most people still plan to recognize the Thanksgiving holiday in some fashion, though.

Nearly 90% of consumers, according to a recent Butterball survey, say they’ll celebrate with a Thanksgiving meal even if modifications must be made. With smaller celebrations and less travelling, there are likely to be more first-time hosts and overall celebrations, a Butterball news release said.

Turkey demand

With a reduced number of large gatherings likely this Thanksgiving, many are predicting that the day’s star bird, the turkey, will be scaled back as well.

People are more likely to want smaller birds or just parts of birds this year, said Ron Kean, UW-Extension poultry specialist.

With higher demand for small birds, some people may have to buy bigger than they wanted to if the supply of smaller turkeys starts running low, Kean said, but that will just mean that they’ll have more leftovers.

Large production facilities may be able to be more flexible in their ability to process more small birds to meet demand, Kean said, but for small operations, there’s such a shortage of custom processing that harvest dates likely won’t be able to be altered to have any effect on finished sizes.

When purchasing, consumers may be faced with slightly higher prices for their turkeys this year, Kean said, as production industrywide is down.

One constant for those cooking turkeys this year will be the Butterball Turkey Talk Line, which will again assist anxious chefs by providing answers and tips for bird preparations. The helpline is available both online on Butterball’s website and over the phone by call or by text.

Overall, turkey seems to have fared better than some meat industries have during the pandemic. Less of the turkey supply is dedicated to restaurant sales, Kean said, so closures wouldn’t have had as big of an impact, and people are also still buying deli meat in the grocery store.

Per capita consumption is about the same as it was last year, Kean said.

Wisconsin raised

For those wanting to feature locally grown or raised products in their Thanksgiving meal, they can be assured that Wisconsin produces many of the holiday’s staples, some in greater quantities than others, though.

Of Thanksgiving staples, the state is best known for the amount of cranberries produced each year.

The United States Department of Agriculture National Agricultural Statistics Service forecast in August that Wisconsin cranberry production for 2020 would be 5.5 million barrels, up 18% from 2019 due to more favorable growing conditions. Despite the dip in production last year, NASS reported this May that Wisconsin maintained its status as the number-one cranberry-producing state in 2019, raking in 59% of the nation’s total crop, more than double the production of the next highest producing state, Massachusetts.

Whether they’re served baked, roasted, mashed or otherwise, the potatoes on the table may have been grown in Wisconsin, too.

Wisconsin potato production in 2019 came in at 27.8 million hundredweight, according to NASS. By hundredweight, Wisconsin regularly ranks third in potato production but does lag far behind the top two potato-producing states, Idaho (130.9 million hundredweight in 2019) and Washington (104.96 million hundredweight).

In terms of turkey production, Wisconsin ranks lower than many states. According to the 2017 Census of Agriculture, 365 Wisconsin farms sold turkeys, with 323 farms falling into the smallest category of under 2,000 birds sold.

In the NASS’s 2019 summary for poultry production and value, Wisconsin was not specifically listed among the 13 states that the summary reported individual production and value totals for.

Top-producing turkey states in the report were Minnesota and North Carolina based on number of turkeys raised and production totals in pounds.

Those looking for ways to include support local farmers in their holiday preparations can take steps like looking for local farms that sell directly to consumers or buying from local co-ops.

Celebrating safely

While Thanksgiving dinners may look different this year, there are still options for celebrations that can reduce or eliminate risk.

The CDC lists small dinners with only those from the same household; no-contact meal delivery to others; and virtual dinners and recipe sharing as lower-risk options.

Video chat platforms like Zoom and Skype have skyrocketed in popularity during the pandemic and provide an opportunity for a type of face-to-face conversation in a virtual, socially distant way.

Having a small outdoor dinner with family and friends who live in the community is rated as a “moderate risk” activity by the CDC.

Considerations those holding in-person activities should keep in mind, according to the CDC, are holding outdoor events, keeping events local, limiting attendance, having supplies like masks and hand sanitizer on hand, social distancing during the event and wearing masks when possible.

Travel can increase the risk of getting or spreading COVID-19, and the CDC advises anyone who does travel to know their travel risk based on factors like where they’re travelling to and what kind of transportation is being used.

Anyone who has tested positive for COVID-19 and not met criteria for when it’s safe to be around others should avoid in-person festivities, according to the CDC. Among others who are advised to not participate are those who have symptoms, are waiting on test results, may have been exposed to someone with COVID-19 in the last 14 day or have increased risk of severe illness with COVID-19. The guidance applies to each individual as well as to an individual if anyone in their household falls under any of those categories.

Full CDC recommendations for hosting safe holiday celebrations are available at

The Associated Press contributed to this report.