LIFESTYLES—With Thanksgiving right around the corner, Americans are gearing up to celebrate with friends and family. But this year, there’s a catch. The U.S. has surpassed 1 million COVID-19 cases for November alone, and as has been predicted, this holiday season will be unlike any other.

California Gov. Gavin Newsom issued a limited stay at home order ahead of Thanksgiving week and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released its updated guidance for holiday celebrations, which encourages small family gatherings and virtual celebrations.

According to a new study by home tech protection and support service Asurion Home+, nearly three-quarters (72%) intend to celebrate the holidays virtually, with 93% of those who plan to e-gather citing the recent rise in COVID-19 as a factor.

But this begs the question – How does one host a successful virtual Thanksgiving?

Plan Ahead
If you plan to connect with friends and family virtually this holiday season, preparation is key. Before the turkey goes in the oven or the appetizers come out, it’s extremely important to coordinate your virtual celebration ahead of time.
“The most important takeaway here is to prepare ahead of time for your e-celebrations this holiday season,” said Marvin Maldonado, Asurion Home+ tech expert. “Initial hiccups are bound to happen if your family is unfamiliar with video calls, and that’s OK.”

Instead of waiting until the last minute to choose a video conferencing app, make plans ahead of time and ensure grandma and grandpa know how to use it. Luckily, most video conferencing apps are easy-to-use once you get the hang of it, and some companies are making accommodations to ensure a successful virtual Thanksgiving.

Zoom recently announced via Twitter that it would be lifting its 40-minute time limit on Thanksgiving to ensure family celebrations do not get cut short.

Maldonado recommends picking your preferred video conferencing app and a backup option just in case. “Give it a test run a few days before,” he adds. “From there, focus on having fun with your family.”

Establish a Secure Internet Connection
Once you’ve successfully coordinated a video conferencing app and marked your calendars for the virtual celebration, it’s time to check your internet connection.
One simple way to test your Wi-Fi connection? Speedtest. This website offers a simple way for internet users to check the strength of your Wi-Fi speed.

If you have a slow connection, try moving your router! Position your router toward the middle of your house – or wherever you plan to host your virtual Thanksgiving celebration – and watch your connection improve.

Luckily, if you still have a slow connection, it shouldn’t be a major issue.

“If your internet isn’t the fastest, don’t worry as these apps don’t need too fast of a connection to work,” said Maldonado. “Just ensure no one is trying to stream a movie in another room at the same time, or it could impact your connection.”

When in Doubt? Use Your Smartphone
While not everyone is equipped with the latest laptop or tablet, 81% of Americans own a smartphone.

Don’t feel pressured to go out and buy new and improved technology to connect with family and friends this Thanksgiving, instead, use what you’ve got.

“If you don’t have a camera on your computer or laptop, use your smartphone instead,” said Maldonado. “Most video conferencing apps are available on iOS and Android for video conferencing from your phone.”

Bottom line – it is entirely possible to host a successful virtual Thanksgiving and connect with family and friends online. Simply plan ahead, establish a secure internet connection, and when in doubt use your smartphone.