This Thanksgiving Requires A New Approach – And Extra Caution

For Addison Houston, Thanksgiving usually involves four celebrations – one at his mom’s house, one at his dad’s, one at his father-in-law’s place, and one with his wife’s mom.

“We ping-pong back and forth between different events on Thanksgiving Day and all weekend long,” says Houston, who works in Environmental Health Services at Public Health – Seattle & King County.

Not this year.

“It’s looking like we’ll be having a virtual Thanksgiving,” Addison said. “We’ll just check in with all four families online at different times during the day. It’s sad to not to see everyone, but we need to do what we can to make sure everyone gets into the new year happy and healthy.”

COVID-19 cases are skyrocketing in King County, Washington State and nationwide. More and more frequently, the virus is spreading within small groups and households. It’s moving from friend to friend, from family member to family member.

To combat the surge, Gov. Jay Inslee issued an executive order this week banning indoor gatherings with anyone who doesn’t live in your home full-time  – unless they have quarantined for 14 days prior to the gathering, or for seven days if they receive a negative COVID-19 test result within 48 hours of their visit.

Every gathering, no matter how small, carries the risk of spreading COVID-19 beyond your home. Many outbreaks have been traced back to a worker or visitor who was likely infected at a small gathering of friends or family.

New times, new plans

If they weren’t already adjusting their holiday plans, people across the state must rethink them now. That includes Public Health staffers like Meagan Kay.

An epidemiologist, Meagan typically celebrates with a dozen family members who span three generations. They had hoped to gather this year, as they always do.

But her 73-year-old mom has underlying health conditions that make her vulnerable to COVID-19, and Meagan just finished a round of chemotherapy. She is scheduled to have surgery shortly after the holiday.

Before the current surge in cases, Meagan’s family had considered celebrating outdoors, beneath a tent, or even indoors, with their masks on, windows open and chairs spaced apart.

Instead, they have opted for a grab-and-go dinner. They will box up their feast, leave the dishes on her sister’s porch, and everyone will pick them up.

Meagan is on turkey duty this year, and she might make a pomegranate cheesecake.

“We want to keep things as safe as possible,” she said. “This is our challenge.”

If you’re going to visit, quarantine first

Lily Alexander, a communications specialist, plans to visit with her family, but only after quarantining and getting tested for COVID-19.

“Thanksgiving is a very big day for us,” Lily said. “It feels even more festive because it’s my 92-year-old grandmother’s birthday. We often do twin celebrations.”

Her family’s feast typically draws up to 20 relatives and includes an especially tasty carrot souffle with tons of eggs and butter.

This year, the celebration will be smaller, with just her mom, her dad and her brother. They will have an outdoor, short, and socially distant visit with her grandmother.

“It’s been a really hard eight months for her, being isolated,” Lily said.

Thanks to the pandemic, Karla Jimenez-Magdaleno won’t be seeing family this year, even though seeing them is the part of Thanksgiving that she values most.

A communications specialist, Karla moved to the United States from Venezuela when she was nine. She has never felt a strong cultural attachment to the holiday, but she sees it as a good occasion to help strengthen community.

She had planned to spend the day volunteering for a community-based organization that delivers food and other supplies to King County communities. But the uptick in the pandemic has made her reconsider.

Instead of going out, she’ll donate money and goods to groups that help the city’s unhoused residents. And she’ll spend the day with her housemates, who are also unable to visit with their families this year.

Spending so much time at home during the pandemic has drawn them closer. “We’ve become a family,” Karla said.

Originally posted on November 19, 2020.