Thanksgiving amid a pandemic: How you told us you were celebrating today

Health officials: cancel your large holiday parties

Many area residents plan to keep Thanksgiving gatherings small this year but some aren’t, and local health experts urged them to cancel large parties to prevent a spike in COVID-19 cases.

The majority of area residents (68%) are greatly concerned by recent COVID-19 case trends and over half (57%) will spend Thanksgiving only with people who live with them, according to an online survey conducted by the Dayton Daily News, Springfield News-Sun and Journal News from Nov. 11 through Nov. 16.

About 15% of the 350 survey respondents said they will spend the holiday with more than 10 people and nearly a quarter said they’ve made no changes to their plans.

“I know it’s difficult; we’re all struggling with the decision to not gather with our loved ones,” said Laurie Fox, a spokeswoman for Greene County Public Health. “However, being without those loved ones around your table this year will allow them to be with us next year.”

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention issued a recommendation Thursday to Americans urging them not to travel during the holiday and to consider canceling plans to gather with people outside their household.

Respondents to our survey who said they are staying home for the holidays said they are doing so to prevent the spread of COVID-19, keep themselves or their relatives who are at high-risk safe and because it’s the “right thing to do,” among other reasons.

Emily Tate of Vandalia is spending Thanksgiving this year with just her fiance who lives with her.

“I feel like seeing (family) in person is almost selfish in a way,” she said. “Because then what if we get sick? What if we spread it to somebody else on accident? I’ve got plenty of years to see them as long as we all stay safe and healthy.”

Some Miami Valley residents are getting creative to celebrate with family and friends without gathering physically.

“Our children agree it is a year for all of us to stay in our own homes; we’ll talk on the phone as our celebration and I will leave a pecan pie at their door the day prior,” wrote a survey participant from Kettering.

Kyle Trout, a spokesman for the Clark County Combined Health District, recognizes these alternatives to in-person socializing are not ideal but said keeping everyone safe is more important.

According to the survey, here’s how local people said they are altering their Thanksgiving plans:

  • Canceled a party (35%)
  • Declined an invitation (26%)
  • Made no changes (24%)
  • Plan to use a virtual video conference tool such as Zoom to see family remotely (19%)
  • Older or high-risk members of family will not attend gathering (17%)
  • Plan to social distance or wear face coverings at a gathering (12%)

Dan Suffoletto, a spokesman for Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County, encouraged people to remember that short-term decisions could have long-lasting implications.

“What we don’t want to have happen is people go to a Thanksgiving party and then they’re in the hospital by Christmas,” he said.

Respondents who made no changes to their Thanksgiving plans and will attend large gatherings this year downplayed the severity of COVID-19 in their responses and said celebrating with family is too important to forgo.

“Life is far too short,” said a survey participant from Riverside. “I will not skip these important holidays due to fear. It could be our last one together.”

A national survey commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association found that over 70% of Americans are unlikely to travel for Thanksgiving. AAA is reporting an anticipated drop of at least 10% in travel nationally and at least a 9% drop in Ohio travel this Thanksgiving, the largest one-year decrease since 2008.

The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center released results from a national survey earlier this month that found that almost two in five Americans plan to attend a gathering with more than 10 people and one-third will not ask guests to wear masks.

Since these surveys were conducted, health officials have gotten sterner with their warnings. Public Health-Dayton & Montgomery County was one of three departments covering major Ohio cities to issue a stay-at-home advisory on Wednesday for 28 days.

This comes as COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations continue to increase across the country. As of Wednesday, the seven-day average of new cases nationwide was over 162,000, an increase of 77% from two weeks earlier.

Echoing the CDC, area health department representatives said they cannot condone gathering with members outside your household. But for those intent on gathering, health officials recommended the following:

  • Limit the number of guests to 10 or less.
  • Stay 6 feet apart or more from other people.
  • If the weather permits, host your celebration outdoors.
  • Wear a face mask when you are not actively eating or drinking.
  • Avoid direct contact such as shaking hands or hugging.
  • Wash hands frequently with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • If you are ill or someone you live with is ill, do not attend any gatherings.

Stephanie Keller, of Mason, will spend Thanksgiving with her parents. Like she always does when she’s visiting, she will wear a face mask and stay socially distanced, avoiding direct contact. She plans to eat at a separate table.

“I don’t know what it will take for people to start to understand that this is real,” she said. “I hear so many people say, ‘I don’t know anyone who has it, or my friends have got it and had no issues.’ But it’s baffling to me that something has to happen to you, in order for you to feel empathy or feel the impact of it.”

The U.S. surpassed 250,000 total coronavirus deaths this week. Over 5,800 of those deaths are from Ohio. Over 23,000 Ohioans have been hospitalized for the virus during the pandemic.

Vicky Knisley-Henry, a spokeswoman for Miami County Public Health, said she hopes more people think twice about hosting or attending a large gathering on Thanksgiving.

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