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Americans Face Difficult Thanksgiving Decisions Amid COVID-19 Surge

Healthcare professionals brace for another spike after the holiday

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Lisa Carley Hotaling
Lisa Carley Hotaling
I have a graduate degree in Humanistic Psychology and live in Upstate New York.

UNITED STATES: Thanksgiving is the kick-off to the holiday season in the United States. A turkey can be found cooking in the oven of most homes throughout the country, and the smell of pumpkin pie envelopes the guests that usually gather. This year, however, Americans are making some difficult choices.

Read Also: COVID-19 Cases Continue To Increase As Winter Holidays Approach

Warning issued: celebrate with people in your home only

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The United States is seeing a massive surge in COVID-19 infections. The US has already recorded the highest number of infections in the world, surpassing twelve million. The Center for Disease Control (CDC) has issued a stark warning for all Americans, “More than 1 million COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States over the last 7 days. As cases continue to increase rapidly, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with. Gatherings with family and friends who do not live with you can increase the chances of getting or spreading COVID-19 or the flu.”

Kristen from the Finger Lakes Region in New York shared her dilemma. “I want to protect my 82 year old mother-in-law who has COPD, breast cancer, and lung cancer. But on the other hand, because of her health status I feel like every time we see her could be the last time, so we want to see her as often as possible. She is shut up in her apartment and rarely gets out. She needs to see us for her mental and emotional health.” While Kristen feels torn, she has decided to attend Thanksgiving dinner at her relative’s house, hoping that everyone respectfully wears a mask and stays physically distant.

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31 states and Puerto Rico currently have mandatory mask requirements in any public space. Three states, including the most populated California, have issued stay-at-home orders. It is likely that New York will be issuing the same in the coming days.

The CDC recommends that if people want to gather, they should do so outside, with masks on, while maintaining at least six feet separation from one another. The average temperature in the United States in late November is 41F, not exactly ideal weather for an outdoor turkey dinner.

While travel is down, 50 million still plan to visit others for the holiday

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Even though overall numbers of those traveling to visit loved ones on Thanksgiving is down about 10% according to the American Automobile Association (AAA), “the change is far smaller, around 4.3 percent, for those traveling by car, who make up a huge majority of those who plan to travel — roughly 47.8 million people.” And even thought “about 917,000 people were screened by the Transportation Security Administration (TSA) on Monday, less than half of the number seen on the same day in 2019,” that’s still nearly 50 million people ignoring CDC guidelines (New York Times).

Given that most states are not issuing stay-at-home orders and there are no checkpoints between state borders, Thanksgiving is expected to become another “super spreader” event. Healthcare professionals are bracing for another spike as folks who resist the recommendations will gather indoors, with masks off, and in close proximity to one another.  

New Yorkers witnessed the worst infection rates in the world; many are choosing to stay home

Charlie Talmadge, 52, contracted COVID-19 during the first wave in March. He lives alone but takes care of his mother, age 78. Even though he has siblings, he will not see them for Thanksgiving. “COVID is a real threat. So we are not traveling, nor are we getting together with family other than myself. It will just be the two of us.”

For Chris Bergman of Penn Yan, NY, Thanksgiving will also be a small get-together. “Spending Thanksgiving with my 91-year-old mother and my step-sister. She’s a vegetarian, so we will have a blow-up turkey for a centerpiece.” She usually spends the holiday with her daughter and her family, but her daughter’s partner is recovering from COVID-19 and they are all in quarantine.”

Kelly Marshall, a student studying respiratory therapy, knows all too well the risks of COVID. “My husband and I usually travel to Chicago to be with family. We could have traveled by car, but I work in a hospital and my brother-in-law has cancer. To keep him safe, we will be staying home alone, together.” The 54-year-old from Livonia, NY added, “I am grateful that we haven’t lost anyone close but saddened by the 300,000 lives that have been lost.”

Several families are using the popular video-conferencing software Zoom to stay connected. Jodi Beckwith will zoom her parents in Florida and her brother in Vermont. And epidemiologist Beth Heavey and her family are taking Zoom to the next level. They plan to play Escape Room with her siblings who live in different states.

Heavey, joking that her friends and family call her the life of the party for her holiday “Public Service Announcements,” provided an informative link that can predict your chances of contracting COVID-19 by zipcode if you choose to attend a Thanksgiving Day celebration.

A concerned doctor, Tom Frieden, summarized the fears that many healthcare professionals have expressed: “Better a Zoom Thanksgiving than an ICU Christmas.”

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