Survey finds Tennesseans and Chattanoogans more likely to spend Thanksgiving outside household

Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Holiday decorations fill the otherwise empty Chattanooga Airport on Thursday, Nov. 19, 2020. The Thanksgiving weekend is typically the busiest holiday travel weekend of the year, but air travel is expected to be down by about 45%, and airlines have cut trips and capacity as the pandemic has persisted.

Less than a third of Americans plan to spend Thanksgiving dinner with people outside of their households, according to a recent survey by Dynata and published by The New York Times.

However, Tennesseans and those living in the Chattanooga area are more likely than most Americans to have the Thanksgiving plans that have been discouraged by local, state and federal leaders amid the coronavirus pandemic.

The nationwide survey of more than 150,000 people between Nov. 13 and 23 found around 27% of Americans planned to eat with people outside of their household on Thanksgiving.

The findings, published Tuesday in the Times, ranked Tennessee as No. 5 in the nation for the highest percentage of respondents expected to travel outside their households on Thursday. Alabama ranked No. 4 on the list and Georgia was No. 18.

The data also gives city-level data, which found 37% of residents in Chattanooga planning to spend Thanksgiving outside of their households. Similar numbers were reported around Southeast Tennessee and Northwest Georgia. Statewide, around 30% of Georgia residents reported having plans outside of their households.

The survey results reported by the Times align with other similar national surveys, including the most recent Axios-Ipsos Coronavirus Index released Tuesday, which found that 61% of Americans said they were changing their usual Thanksgiving plans this year to help stop the spread.

Political leaders and health experts have warned people about the risks of gathering with people outside of their households as the coronavirus continues to spread at record levels in Tennessee and across the nation.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention urged Americans not to celebrate Thanksgiving with people outside of their households. Travel increases the chance of contracting or spreading COVID-19. Celebrating virtually, or only with other members of the same household, poses the lowest risk, the CDC advised.

At the start of the month, when Hamilton County averaged about half the number of new cases a day it is now reporting, the Hamilton County Health Department asked area residents to rethink their holiday schedules.

"We understand that families and friends want to celebrate this holiday season," health administrator Becky Barnes said at the time. "So we want everyone to know how they can stay safe and prevent the virus from spreading."

Chattanooga Mayor Andy Berke cautioned residents during a Friday news conference not to let their guards down. The informal gatherings, like having friends over for dinner or going to a happy hour, can be dangerous, he said, citing the high number of active COVID-19 cases in the county.

"These are the moments where coronavirus spreads," Berke said. "We all want to do those things. I understand why, but we really have to be vigilant as we enter this critical phase of coronavirus."

During a Tuesday afternoon news conference, Gov. Bill Lee asked state residents to make wise decisions ahead of the Thanksgiving holiday and Black Friday shopping day.

"I know at my family, Thanksgiving will be very different at the farm this year, and it can be disheartening, in fact, when we enter a holiday with as much going on around us as is happening right now," Lee said.

Contact Wyatt Massey at or 423-757-6249. Follow him on Twitter @news4mass.