FALL RIVER, N.S. -- With the shelves at The Vegetorium Country Farm Market in Fall River, N.S., bursting with the fall harvest, patrons are among Maritimers getting ready to mark Thanksgiving in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic.

"We're eating a meat-free meal," says nine-year-old Grace Mimnagh.

Mom Angela Mimnagh says her family will have Thanksgiving dinner together on Oct. 12.

While they have family in Ontario, "that's not going to happen this year, and that's OK," she says. "Everybody's got to look after themselves and stay safe."

The co-owner of The Vegetorium, Maria Simpson, says she will also have dinner with her family, and she does have customers ordering their fresh turkeys for the occasion.

"It's nice that people have their family bubble and can still get together," she says.

Those who live in the Atlantic bubble could be among the few Canadians who may be able to have some semblance of normalcy on Oct. 12 as the pandemic continues.

Simpson says that is even more reason to celebrate.

"Thanksgiving (this year) is actually extra special, to be able to show gratitude for that," she said.

The three Maritime provinces had eight active COVID-19 cases as of Thursday, with six of those cases in New Brunswick.

The situation on the East Coast is a stark contrast to the rest of the country, where cases have spiked in Canada's four largest provinces.

That increase has prompted Prime Minister Justin Trudeau to urge Canadians to follow public health protocols.

"It's all too likely we won't be gathering for Thanksgiving, but we still have a shot at Christmas," Trudeau said Wednesday during a special televised address to the nation.

Even so, infectious disease specialist Dr. Lisa Barrett says Maritimers marking Thanksgiving still need to follow health guidelines.

"Either stay in your bubble, or stay distanced with a mask, when you're talking about seeing people at a time like Thanksgiving," says Barrett. "And do as much as you can outside."

Barrett urges people to also consider marking the occasion in other ways, rather than sitting down for a meal. She also says anyone who has health concerns should consider doing just a few outdoor visits with close family or friends.

She also says people need to continue frequent hand-washing.

With Thanksgiving just a few weeks away, one Maritime province already has COVID-19 information specific to the holiday available online.

Prince Edward Island's Department of Health and Wellness has posted its guidelines, which include:

  • keeping personal gatherings to a maximum of 20 people
  • using physical distancing among people from different households, and wearing masks if that's not possible
  • preparing and serving food as long as utensils are not shared
  • anyone feeling ill should stay home.

Nova Scotia and New Brunswick public health officials say their own Thanksgiving guidelines are being prepared and will be released soon.

Barrett says what happens over the next several weeks will be crucial in determining exactly what Thanksgiving will look like for Maritimers this year.