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Marsha Mercer column: Don’t be a turkey on Thanksgiving
COVID-19 and the Holidays

Marsha Mercer column: Don’t be a turkey on Thanksgiving

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COVID-19 and Thanksgiving

Two volunteers carved a turkey to be frozen and packaged into individual meals for seniors in Hawthorne, N.J. With a fall surge of COVID-19 infections gripping the U.S., many Americans are forgoing Thanksgiving traditions and getting creative with celebrations.

We need to talk about Thanksgiving.

Norman Rockwell’s “Freedom from Want” painting — generations happily gathered shoulder to shoulder around the dinner table as the roast turkey makes a glorious entrance — is many Americans’ ideal Thanksgiving.

But in 2020, that festive family dinner could be a COVID-19 superspreader event.

Friends and family members traveling from afar, hugging, helping in the kitchen, sitting together for a long meal indoors with the windows closed, passing platters family style or helping themselves to a buffet using the same serving utensils — are a recipe for disaster.

COVID-19, the disease caused by the novel coronavirus, doesn’t care if we have pandemic fatigue. It’s not taking a holiday, and we can’t pretend everything is back to normal. We are months from having a widely available and effective vaccine to prevent and therapeutics to treat the deadly virus.

Older people and those with underlying health conditions still are more vulnerable to the disease, which is rampaging around the country.

Upwards of 100,000 new cases are being reported day after day. More than 148,000 cases were reported Wednesday alone. Cases are surging in almost every state, swamping hospitals and funeral homes.

More than 10 million Americans have been stricken, more than 242,000 of us have died and hundreds of thousands more suffer debilitating effects that linger for months.

Several states have returned to more restrictive rules. New York Gov. Andrew Cuomo, a Democrat, limited indoor private gatherings to 10 people, and closed bars and restaurants at 10 p.m. Maryland Gov. Larry Hogan, a Republican, ordered restrictions on restaurant capacity and indoor gatherings, and discouraged travel to hot spot states.

“This virus is still alive and well and very, very contagious,” Virginia Gov. Ralph Northam, a Democrat, said Tuesday. COVID-19 cases have soared in rural southwest Virginia and have risen in central Virginia. So far, Northam has left reopening rules unchanged.

It’s up to us to take personal responsibility, and be disciplined and careful.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) issued guidance Tuesday on how to make this Thanksgiving safer.

First and foremost, wear a mask. It should have two or more layers to stop the virus spread.

The latest CDC research indicates a mask can help protect the wearer as well as those with whom they come in contact.

But no cheating: “Wear the mask over your nose and mouth and secure it under your chin. Make sure the mask fits snugly against the sides of your face,” the CDC says.

Many tips, like washing hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds or using hand sanitizer when you can’t wash, are familiar.

“Stay at least 6 feet away from people who do not live with you” is a variation on a theme.

Hosts and hostesses need to rethink their traditional plans and stifle their inner Martha Stewart.

Limit the number of guests and talk beforehand about expectations for celebrating together. Eat outdoors, if possible; inside, open the windows. Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces and items between use, the CDC says.

Guests: Bring your own food, drinks, plates, cups and utensils. Avoid going in and out of the kitchen. Use single-use items, like salad dressing and condiment packets, and disposable food containers, plates and utensils.

Better yet, just stay home. “Travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19. Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others,” the CDC says.

Home is not risk-free, however. A CDC study found that people who carried the virus, most without symptoms, infected more than half the other people in their homes.

Instead, host a virtual Thanksgiving with those who don’t live with you. Share recipes. Watch parades, sports and movies on TV or online.

If you do need to travel, get a flu shot beforehand. This year, a flu shot is essential even if you’re not traveling. Carry disinfecting wipes and extra masks.

And don’t even think about crowding into stores for Black Friday deals.

We can get through this if we exercise caution this year. By next Thanksgiving, we should be able to resume our normal activities.

Let go of a Norman Rockwell Thanksgiving so we don’t unwittingly spread an unpredictable, deadly disease to friends and family. That’s something to be thankful for.

Marsha Mercer writes from Washington. Contact her at:

© 2020, Marsha Mercer. All rights reserved.

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