Families struggle with how to hold a second Thanksgiving for the pandemic
Back in the spring, Pauline Creel and her cousins talked about being reunited for Thanksgiving at her home near Detroit after several agonizing months of isolation due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the virus had a different plan. Michigan is now a hot spot in the country. Hospitals there are teeming with patients, and schools are curtailing in-person learning. The spreading virus has pushed the number of new infections in the United States to 95,000 a day, hospitals in Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona are also under pressure, and health officials are asking people who are not immune to travel.
The Creel family’s big feast has been suspended. She roasts a turkey and mixes together a pistachio salad – an annual tradition – but only for her, her husband, and two adult boys.
“I’m going to put on my rubber pants and eat a lot – and no one will care,” she said.
Her story reflects the Thanksgiving dilemma facing families across America as gatherings become burdened with the same political and coronavirus debates consuming other arenas.
When they gather for turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes, and pie, they are faced with a list of questions: Can they once again make big get-togethers? Can they assemble at all? Should they invite unvaccinated family members? Should they order a negative test before letting a guest sit at the dinner table or sit on the sofa for an afternoon of soccer?
“I know it might be an exaggeration not to share Thanksgiving here with my cousins, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?” Creel, a 58-year-old data officer for a financial firm, said.
Jocelyn Rajossin, an accountant from Littleton, Colorado, is taking a different approach by prioritizing family time over COVID-19 concerns even as the surge in cases and overcrowded hospitals led to new mask mandates in the Denver area this week. Ragosin, whose husband contracted the virus and spent four days in the intensive care unit in October 2020, said she is prepared to accept a certain level of risk to restore a sense of community.
She said about seven or eight family members would meet over the holiday and that the group had not discussed each other’s vaccination status beforehand, in part because they “sort of know” who already got vaccinated and who actually contracted the virus.
“Meeting is worth it. We weren’t just made to live in solitude,” Ragosin said while picking up her mother at the airport in Denver, gathering and sharing meals and sharing life.
The desire to bring family and friends back together for Thanksgiving was evident Wednesday in San Francisco, as the line ran at a grocery store out the door and soon.
Marie Areola was in line to buy ingredients to make tamales for a meal that would also include salsa, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy. She sees the gathering of 12 family members this year as a symbol of hope that things are getting better. A year ago, she was spending Thanksgiving only with her husband, mother, and daughter.
“We really felt disconnected, living our lives based on fear, and it looked like an apocalypse scene every time you left your house,” the San Francisco tech consultant said last year. Now things are different. ”
Even in the best of times, Thanksgiving has always been a tough opportunity for Nadia Brown, a political science professor at Georgetown University, who hates embarrassing and divisive conversations about politics, race and other hot issues. COVID-19 has made the holiday even worse.
She and her husband had hoped to have a large Thanksgiving family gathering at their home near Silver Spring, Maryland, but the onset of the winter wave and ongoing concerns about breakouts spoiled those plans. She recently told her father and his family — even if they were vaccinated — that they should be tested for virus or sit down at Thanksgiving dinner.
With two of Brown’s three daughters, 2 and 4, unable to get vaccinated, she doesn’t want to take the risk — “because we don’t know the long-term effects of COVID on children,” she explained.
Her decision means that her father, Dr. Joseph Brown, will not be coming from his home about three hours away in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The dentist was vaccinated, but said he did not have time for an examination.
“It hurts so much. I want to see my grandchildren,” Joseph Brown said, adding, “I understand her situation. I really.”
Reva Lichinger, who saw the ravages of the pandemic firsthand when she was a medical student, put her fears aside to fly from her home in New York City to Washington to resume Thanksgiving celebrations with her family. They skipped the rally last year.
She said she was reassured that everyone there had been vaccinated and had a booster shot, but that she was also concerned about her viral status, even though she had been fully vaccinated.
“I have this constant fear of harming or making someone in my family sick because I see so many COVID patients every day,” she said.
Despite her misgivings, Letchinger looks forward to the annual family ritual, which includes a generous selection of Jewish favorites — such as golumpkis, or stuffed cabbage, which her late aunt Susie used to bring to Thanksgiving.
But the celebration will have somber overtones, too. The family lost two loved ones, both Holocaust survivors, after bouts with COVID-19 last year.
Associated Press contributing writer Olga R. Rodriguez, in this report from San Francisco.
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