Coronavirus: The agonising Thanksgiving dilemma facing millions of Americans

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By Sam Cabral
BBC News, Washington


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Stock image of US Thanksgiving spread
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image copyrightGetty Images

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.css-14iz86j-BoldText{font-weight:bold;}With over a million new Covid-19 cases nationwide in the past week, according to Johns Hopkins University, public health officials are cautioning people not to gather in large groups this holiday season.

Next week’s Thanksgiving weekend poses a particular concern. Americans traditionally travel home to be with loved ones, taking part in meals, parades and shopping sprees.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) .css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link{color:#3F3F42;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited{color:#696969;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited{font-weight:bolder;border-bottom:1px solid #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration:none;text-decoration:none;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focus{border-bottom-color:currentcolor;border-bottom-width:2px;color:#B80000;}@supports (text-underline-offset:0.25em){.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited{border-bottom:none;-webkit-text-decoration:underline #BABABA;text-decoration:underline #BABABA;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:1px;text-decoration-thickness:1px;-webkit-text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-decoration-skip-ink:none;text-underline-offset:0.25em;}.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:hover,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:link:focus,.css-yidnqd-InlineLink:visited:focus{-webkit-text-decoration-color:currentcolor;text-decoration-color:currentcolor;-webkit-text-decoration-thickness:2px;text-decoration-thickness:2px;color:#B80000;}}strongly recommended that this year, Americans stay home and celebrate only with those they live with.

The nation’s top infectious disease expert Dr Anthony Fauci urged Americans to “think twice” about holiday travel plans, adding that even “innocent home gatherings” with family and friends could result in several outbreaks.

As hard-hit regions have reimposed pandemic restrictions, even the Bidens and Trumps have made changes this year. President-elect Joe Biden revealed he and his wife, Dr Jill Biden, will have just one guest at their Thanksgiving dinner, while outgoing President Donald Trump and First Lady Melania Trump will remain at the White House for the weekend.

We asked people from around the country what changes they had made to their Thanksgiving plans and how they felt about 2020’s pared-down holiday season.

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Daniela Sofia Martinez, 18, Louisiana

.css-po6dm6-ItalicText{font-style:italic;}Daniela is a college student in Virginia, but is flying to meet family in two different states.

Danielaimage copyrightDaniela Sofia Martinez

How are you spending Thanksgiving?

I’m visiting my dad’s brothers who live in Atlanta and I’m trying to stay as safe as I can. We’ll be here for a week, then next week I go back to Louisiana to be with my immediate family. I was a little worried because the last time I flew on a plane was June or July and there was not much separation between people.

I felt a lot more comfortable this time because there were seats between people and that helped out a lot. I’ve been wearing my mask, staying socially distanced from people I don’t typically see very often and, on the plane, I made sure to wear a bit of a higher grade mask. I was debating whether to come home for Thanksgiving or for Christmas, and we decided it would be best to do Thanksgiving.

What’s the most difficult thing about Thanksgiving this year?

Not being able to see my family as much as I would like. Keeping distance and making sure that I don’t spread the virus is going to be a little hard. I was the one in the airport, so if we get Covid, it would probably be my fault. That added level of stress is going to be very difficult for me, but I’ll just have to push through it.

How are you feeling about the holidays this year?

It’s been rough and has put a damper on my life. On top of that, we had to deal with the election too, so it’s been a lot. But it’s getting better, and I’m feeling very happy now that I’m here with my family and get to see everyone.



media captionA brief history of Thanksgiving
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Dr Abdul ‘Rab’ Razzak, 43, Ohio

Rab is a Bangladeshi-born palliative care specialist raised in New Jersey.

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Rabimage copyrightRab Razzak

image captionRab has worked with several Covid-positive patients in the ICU in recent weeks.

How are you spending Thanksgiving?

We initially planned to see both sets of parents in New Jersey. Given that they are in their mid-to-late 70s, we have opted to stay in the Ohio area. I have two brothers and their families are there too.

We are masking up and limiting the number of people we are in contact with. If we do meet people, it’s always socially distanced. If I walk with a friend outside, I do it masked up. And I expect lots of Zoom and FaceTime calls to friends and family.

What’s the most difficult thing about Thanksgiving this year?

We are used to family gatherings. Not being able to spend holidays with family – especially not visiting parents – is hard, but it’s the right and responsible thing to do. We want them around.

Rab's family Thanksgiving last year with over a dozen relatives
image captionRab (left) at his family Thanksgiving last year

How are you feeling about the holidays this year?

I’m sure many people will be lonely without the physical contact of loved ones. It’s sad, frustrating, lonely and exhausting at times. This should have been under better control sooner.

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Eliana Girard, 29, Florida

Eliana is a professional dancer.

Elianaimage copyrightEliana Girard

How are you spending Thanksgiving?

Nothing has changed too much. My family and I are meeting at one of my brother’s homes and all of us are going to stay overnight because he’s got enough room for us. If we do holidays at someone’s house that’s far away, we generally get a hotel, but because of Covid, we would rather stay together.

What’s the most difficult thing about Thanksgiving this year?

There’s nothing difficult in particular. Things just get a little more sad over the years, meeting together and seeing all the kids grow up.

How are you feeling about the holidays this year?

Generally, I look back at where I was this time last year, hoping I’m in a more progressive place in my life. This year, I feel pretty neutral because I’d love to have moved further in my career but that was taken away by the pandemic – an uncontrollable variable – but I’m just grateful to be here. So I’d say there’s more positive feelings than negative, because at least we’re here and we get to celebrate the holidays with people we care about.

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Meredith Power, 33, Maryland

Meredith is an administrative assistant at a university.

Meredithimage copyrightMeredith Power

How are you spending Thanksgiving?

We normally travel to my parents’ house in Raleigh, North Carolina or to an extended family event with my husband’s family on Long Island in New York. Our families have been understanding about our desire not to travel this year. My husband and I will have just one friend over, who has been part of our ‘bubble’ all year.

What’s the most difficult thing about Thanksgiving this year?

Watching all of the people who are still planning big gatherings despite everything that’s going on, and justifying it as “but my [grandparent/parent] is old, maybe this is the last holiday we’ll have with them!”

It very well could be, if you bring Covid to the table to share.

Meredith and family

How are you feeling about the holidays this year?

Exhausted. Friends are putting up Christmas trees and lights already, using the excuse that it’s been a slog of a year and everyone could use a little cheering up.

Seeing decorations in stores and aggressive holiday shopping campaigns earlier than normal definitely is not helping with my already-distorted sense of time’s passage.

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Ryan Sedgeley, 35, Wyoming

Ryan is a graduate student at the University of Wyoming.

Ryanimage copyrightRyan Sedgeley

How are you spending Thanksgiving?

I am staying home and avoiding any unnecessary travel or contact with other people. Normally we travel to spend the Thanksgiving holiday with our family. We had planned to make the 12-hour road trip after self quarantining for two weeks. But even with making plans to never interact with other people on the drive, it just isn’t fair to create the additional risk of a car accident which would put unnecessary pressure on the doctors and nurses at our hospitals that are already overwhelmed.

At this point the only respectful and responsible thing to do is to self isolate. It sucks, but in the end it is a small sacrifice.

What’s the most difficult thing about Thanksgiving this year?

Hearing the disappointment in our parents’ voices when we said we would not be coming home. I’m sad I will not be able to see my grandma. I miss being in their presence.

Ryan's Thanksgiving table last yaer
image captionRyan’s Thanksgiving dinner table with family last year

How are you feeling about the holidays this year?

Not well. This is a sombre time and I am feeling like the holiday season this year needs to be one of remembrance and reflection. In a sane world we would be laser focused on reducing transmission of this plague, making sacrifices now for the long term collective good.

We would have compassion and empathy for our fellow humans, honouring the heroes fighting this disease in the hospitals around the country.

media captionHow effective is getting a Covid test before you travel for Thanksgiving?

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