Saying No Thank You to COVID-19
Holiday poses both risks and opportunities with loved ones
Apple or pumpkin? Most Thanksgivings, that's a tough question, but not a matter of life or death (you could of course choose both, with a side of pecan). But with COVID-19 setting up for some of the biggest holiday spreads in human history, it could be — especially if whoever's asking lives outside your household.
Private indoor gatherings have been accounting for an increasingly large slice of the COVID-19 statistical pie, and with the holiday season upon us, health experts fear many more of us might be mincemeat by year's end. In Erie County alone, November's case numbers have surpassed those of the first seven months of the pandemic combined, more than doubling what had already been an excessive toll —in terms of lives and livelihoods both lost and affected.
The next three months could prove even more unpalatable if proper precautions aren't taken — recent projections predicted peaks of 22,000 new cases per day and 32,000 deaths by February in Pennsylvania alone. Unfortunately, those precautions call for sacrificing many of our cherished rites and traditions, and most of us are more tired of sacrifices than your uncle with a bellyful of tryptophan — who protocols suggest you should not invite over unless he's a household cohabitant (or has bad jokes/bad opinions).
Inbound and outbound travelers are of most concern to health officials, as community levels of COVID-19 can vary from region to region and travel hubs bring together people from everywhere. On Nov. 20, Pa. Secretary of Health Dr. Rachel Levine issued an order that all out-of-state visitors must test negative for COVID-19 within 72 hours (3 days) of entering the commonwealth. Without a test, they must quarantine for 14 days after arriving. The same applies in reverse for Pennslyvanians who travel to other states. With Erie County bridging two state borders, it's right in the crosshairs of potential enforcement.
Of course, policing the comings and goings every vehicle and every individual in Pennsylvania would not only be impractical but impossible, so authorities are banking on folks to exercise the utmost discretion and care before carving into their Thanksgiving turkey. The Centers for Disease Control have released Guidance on Holidays and Small Gatherings, of which the main takeaways are:
Definition of a household
The only people considered to be "in your household" are those who live with you or share a communal living space on the daily (whether they be direct relatives or roommates). Family members or friends who spend all or most of the year living outside your home (including returning college students) belong to a separate household (even though we may love them unconditionally).
The CDC does not offer an exact figure for a "safe" number of Thanksgiving invitees, stating that it will vary depending on whatever venue is hosting the celebration. It's best if guests belonging to different households can put 6 feet or more between them, and it's recommended they wear masks if celebrating indoors (a virtual guarantee in Erie weather) while also washing and sanitizing their hands frequently.
Obviously anyone with an underlying health condition, who has tested positive for COVID-19, or is exhibiting COVID-19 or flu symptoms should not travel to or attend any Thanksgiving celebration.
It's of paramount importance that an indoor space can be ventilated adequately, whether by setting a heating system on continuous circulation or cracking open doors or windows. Doing so can help reduce the volume of virus particles in the air at any given time (if present), and with it the risk of infection.
In the interest of fending off feeding frenzies, the CDC recommends designating one masked distributor of your Thanksgiving goodies or calling up one household at a time. Minimize or eliminate use of shared utensils of any kind.
The CDC asks Americans to be cognizant of the behavior patterns and attitudes of celebration attendees, especially those who socialize recklessly or deny the pandemic outright. Alcohol and drug use during the celebration (extremely common) are also discouraged as they can loosen one's inhibitions and adherence to best practices.
If wearing masks and social distancing from people you've known and (mostly) loved your whole life seems lame, weird, and unnatural — that's exactly their point. The traditional American Thanksgiving (and Christmas, Chanukah, and anything else) should probably not be transpiring this year. But inevitably, they will, by the millions — so some modicum of caution should be exercised.
If you're open-minded enough to explore alternative holiday plans this year (probably just this once as vaccines are on the way), the CDC proposes preparing and exchanging dishes without contact (i.e. homemade contactless deliveries), sharing dinner virtually, and otherwise just hanging out with and enjoying the people you live with.
But that's not to say you can't liven things up with friends and family from afar! At the very beginning of the pandemic, we shared a glut of ideas for entertaining virtual interactions, most of which should be just as relevant today as they were in March.
Hang in there Erie. This nightmare feels like it's lasted forever, but thankfully — mercifully — it will all be over soon enough. Let's not roast our birds before we get there.
Matt Swanseger (firstname.lastname@example.org) wishes he could make like an oversated uncle and nap until Rona and her relatives have all left the house.