INSIDER POLL: Most Americans are mixing households for Thanksgiving, but few intend to wear masks or open windows

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  • Insider polled 1,110 American adults. Most (57%) said they will be mixing households for dinner, despite CDC warnings not to invite people over. 
  • 58% of those mixing households plan to eating indoors without opening windows. Fewer than half of those mixing households are planning to wear masks. 
  • "In general, the most important [tips] would be to wear a mask at all times except when you're drinking or eating, and avoid a lot of people in a closed space" indoors, an infectious disease physician told Insider. 
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Throughout 2020, Americans have been asked to alter their Easter and Passover celebrations, scrap July 4 travel plans, and tamp down their Memorial Day barbecues to help protect themselves and others from the novel coronavirus. 

But most can't swallow top health recommendations that Thanksgiving — a holiday that celebrates loved ones, friends, and strangers coming together to share food and gratitude — be spent only among members of the same household. 

According to a nationally representative Insider poll of 1,110 American adults conducted on SurveyMonkey Audience from November 20 to 21, only 43% of Thanksgiving attendees will heed that recommendation, which was issued by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention November 19 along with pleads to not travel for the holidays.   

Rather, 24% of celebrations will involve two households, 15% will mix three, and 19% will host four or more. One in 10 will combine five or more households. 

What's more, our polling suggests few are making the changes that infectious-disease experts would most highly recommend: improving ventilation and wearing masks. More than 57% plan to eat inside as usual, and 50% plan to not wear masks. 

40% said they will wear masks, and 10% aren't sure about their mask-wearing expectations.

Why masks and open windows are so important

Mixing households, even with precautions, is risky. 

More than the number of people in any one place, the number of households in any one place is what contributes to COVID-19 spread, Dr. Antonio Crespo, the medical director for Orlando Health Infectious Disease, told Insider.

"The people that are around you, you trust them, and see that everybody has been taking precautions," he said. That's "a safer group than" groups where you don't know exactly where everybody has been or who and how many people they've come into contact with. 

But if you do invite friends or relatives over, masks are critical. They've been shown to help keep people indoors safe from the virus, like in the case of a salon in which the stylists had COVID-19 but didn't infect any of their 140 clients.

Plus, one recent model estimated that if all Americans wore them, 63,000 more US deaths could be prevented by March. An even more recent CDC report showed that COVID-19 cases sank in Kansas counties that adopted a mask mandate, while counties that opted out saw an increase by 100%.

Proper ventilation, including through open windows, is also helpful in reducing coronavirus transmission risk indoors, since the virus spreads mostly via respiratory droplets, though it may also travel in smaller particles that can linger indoors. Other enclosed settings, like one indoor bar in with no mechanical ventilation and entrances typically kept closed, have fueled superspreader events. 

"In general, the most important [tips] would be to wear a mask at all times except when you're drinking or eating, and avoid a lot of people in a closed space" indoors, Crespo said. 

"I know we want to be together, we want to hug each other, kiss each other, but this year we may have to make some changes to these practices so we hope that maybe by next year we could have a more traditional reunion," he added. "This year we have to sacrifice a little bit." 

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