My neighbor Lisa has made her Thanksgiving plans. Her mother and her two grown children live in a town that's a six hour drive north from her home. For the holidays she has bought--and had delivered to her mother's house--one party tent with roll up sides that can comfortably hold 20 somewhat socially distanced guests plus the two restaurant-caliber outdoor heaters she's purchased. "If it's cold and miserable on Thanksgiving day we'll just postpone the big meal," she tells me, adding her belief that it will be nice at least one day of the long weekend. She and other guests plan to quarantine-light for two weeks before Thanksgiving. Lisa, who works for a health-care company, believes her plan is solid: an outdoor Thanksgiving dinner with flexibility on the actual date and guests who've taken extra steps to keep coronavirus away from their gathering.
I have also made my plans. I have called my son and daughter-in-law, who have been hosting our family Thanksgiving for the past decade, and let them know that Paterfamilias and I will not be there. We will not make the 1-hour airplane trip north to their city in upstate New York. It was a tear-inducing call, especially since a grandchild we haven't seen since last Thanksgiving will be returning home from college.
I am following the dictates of another friend, Jo, whose son is a research scientist at NIH and lives a mere 20 minutes away from her. Although he and his family usually have Thanksgiving at his house, he and his wife won't be doing it this year. He told his mother to wipe the holidays off her calendar--just forget about them. Wait till next year.
His advice is in keeping with that of NIH's leading virologist and epidemiologist, Tony Fauci. He has reiterated on TV news shows that if we don't "appropriately mitigate the risk of a COVID-19 infection," Thanksgiving festivities could become superspreader events.
The primary problems, he said, will be small to mid-sized gatherings held indoors with people from out-of-town attending. (That would be us.) Circulated indoor air could easily become a hotbed for virus transmission. The danger is heightened when some of the guests take public transportation like planes to get there. (Again, that would be us.)
Lest we think Fauci is immune to the deprivations of a no-thanks Thanksgiving, he says his children, who live in multiple different states, will not be returning home for the holiday, out of concern for their father and his age.
One size does not fit all. Some lucky folks (and their guests) may live in areas where Covid rates are not on the rise, making it somewhat safer to gather indoors (with social distancing, masking and open windows, of course). Southern and West Coast states where the weather is milder can avoid the indoor issue.
Here's how a professor of civil and environmental engineering explains the outdoor advantage:
If you’re [ourdoors] standing right next to someone else, there won’t be enough time for sun and heat to break the virus down before you breathe it in. But there is enough time for the wind to blow it away.
And a point on relativity the professor makes:
Neither “indoors” nor “outdoors” is universally safe. Indoors with a small number of people and a good ventilation system bringing fresh air in at least six times an hour is a different risk than indoors in a large group singing without good ventilation. Outside at a protest, masked up and walking, is a different risk than unmasked and packed side-by-side into a football stadium.
For more customized advice and guidance on making Thanksgiving plans, here's a link to the CDC's suggestions for celebrating fall and winter holidays during the pandemic.
Stay safe. And not too sad.