Back in the spring, Pauline Criel and her cousins talked about being reunited for Thanksgiving at her home near Detroit after many painful months of seclusion due to the COVID-19 pandemic.
But the virus had a different plan. Michigan is now the nation’s hot spot. Hospitals abound with patients, and schools turn down personal learning. A resurgent virus has pushed new infections in the United States to 95,000 daily, hospitals in Minnesota, Colorado and Arizona are also under pressure, and health authorities are begging unvaccinated people not to travel.
Criel’s big family party was put on hold. She roasts a turkey and whips a pistachio fluff salad together – an annual tradition – but only for her, her husband and two grown boys.
“I want to wear my stretchy pants and eat too much – and no one will care,” she said.
Her story reflects the Thanksgiving dilemma that families across America face when congregations are burdened with the same political debates and coronavirus debates that consume other arenas.
As they gather for turkey, stuffing, mashed potatoes and pie, they are confronted with a series of questions: Can they hold large gatherings again? Can they be assembled at all? Should they invite unvaccinated family members? Should they require a negative test before a guest is allowed at the dinner table or a seat on the couch for an afternoon of football?
“I know it may be exaggerated that we do not share Thanksgiving here with my cousins, but it’s better to be safe than sorry, right?” said Criel, a 58-year-old data administrator for a finance company.
Jocelyn Ragusin, an accountant from Littleton, Colorado, takes a different approach by prioritizing family time over COVID-19 concerns, though rising case numbers and overwhelmed hospitals triggered new mask mandates in the Denver area this week. Ragusin, whose husband contracted the virus and spent four days in the intensive care unit in October 2020, said she is willing to accept a certain level of risk to regain a sense of community.
She said about seven or eight family members would gather for the holidays and that the group had not discussed each other’s vaccination status in advance, in part because they “somehow” already know who got shot and who has already had the virus.
“It’s worth it to meet. And to get together and share meals and share life,” Ragusin said as she picked up her mother at the Denver airport. “We are just not made to live in isolation.”
The desire to bring family and friends back together for Thanksgiving was evident Wednesday in San Francisco, where the queue at a grocery store stretched out the door and around the corner.
Mari Arreola stood in line to buy ingredients to make tamales for a meal that will also include salsa, ham, mashed potatoes and gravy. She sees the gathering of 12 family members this year as a symbol of the hope that things will get better. A year ago, she only spent Thanksgiving with her husband, mother and daughter.
“We felt really disconnected, and we lived all our lives based on fear, and it looked like an apocalypse scene outside every time you left your house,” the San Francisco technology consultant said last year. “It was really scary, but now things are different.”
Even in better times, Thanksgiving has always been a trying occasion for Nadia Brown, a professor of political science at Georgetown University, who abhors the awkward and divisive conversations about politics, race, and other hot-button issues. COVID-19 has only made the holiday worse.
She and her husband were hoping to have a big Thanksgiving family reunion at their home near Silver Spring, Maryland, but the onset of a winter wave and persistent concerns about breakthrough cases ruined those plans. She recently told her father and his family – even though they are vaccinated – that they need to be tested to prove they are virus free or sit out with Thanksgiving dinner.
With two of Brown’s three daughters, 2 and 4, unable to be vaccinated, she does not want to take any chances – “because we do not know the long-term effects of COVID on children,” she explained.
Her decision means that her father, Dr. Joseph Brown, not coming from his home about three hours away in New Brunswick, New Jersey. The dentist is vaccinated but said he did not have time to be tested.
“It hurts me a lot. I want to see my grandchildren, “Joseph Brown said, adding,” I understand her situation. I really do. “
Riva Letchinger, who has seen the ravages of the pandemic as a medical student, put aside her worries about traveling from her home in New York City to Washington to resume the Thanksgiving festivities with her family. They skipped the gathering last year.
She said she has been assured that everyone who has been vaccinated and received booster shots, but she is also concerned about her own viral status, even though she is fully vaccinated.
“I have this consistent fear of hurting someone in my family or getting sick because I see so many COVID patients every day,” she said.
Despite her fears, Letchinger looks forward to the annual family ritual, which includes a generous supplement of Jewish favorites – such as golumpkis or stuffed cabbage, which her late aunt Susie used to take to the Thanksgiving feast.
But the celebration will also have gloomy undertones. The family lost two loved ones, both Holocaust survivors, after fighting with COVID-19 last year.
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