Editorial: Thanksgiving celebrations must change due to COVID-19

We are only 10 days away from Thanksgiving, a beloved fall holiday where we gather with friends and family as we give thanks for the blessings in our lives.

Traditionally, we hold large gatherings on Thanksgiving Thursday with huge spreads of food — turkey, dressing, cranberry sauce, that special dish your grandmother always makes — and an array of fun activities, from pickup football games in the backyard to battling the crowds as the holiday shopping season unofficially gets underway.

But like most parts of our lives, the new coronavirus (COVID-19) has changed how we celebrate the holidays. We are currently in the midst of another COVID-19 surge, as the country is setting daily records for infections and deaths.

As of Monday, the United States reported more than 11.2 million confirmed, cumulative COVID-19 cases and more than 246,000 deaths attributed to the virus. Closer to home, Whitfield County on Monday reported 6,731 confirmed, cumulative COVID-19 cases with almost 15% of those cases (996) coming in the past two weeks.

This most recent surge in COVID-19 cases has been partly linked to weddings, dinner parties and small gatherings as people let their guard down, believing events involving fewer people were a safe alternative.

Health officials worry that the country's COVID-19 situation will worsen since people are spending more time indoors due to colder temperatures, and thousands of college students are returning home for the Thanksgiving holiday after being on campuses for months. We are also in the early stages of flu season. Put these factors together along with the nationwide surge in COVID-19 cases and you can see why there is much trepidation.

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) released guidelines advising us how to safely celebrate Thanksgiving — if we choose to celebrate at all. The full guidelines can be found at www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-ncov/daily-life-coping/holidays/thanksgiving.html.

To make Thanksgiving safer, the CDC advises all attendees to wear a mask, stay at least 6 feet away from others who do not live with you and wash your hands as often as possible.

If you are hosting a Thanksgiving meal, here are the CDC's recommendations:

• Have a small outdoor meal with family and friends who live in your community.

• Limit the number of guests.

• Have conversations with guests ahead of time to set expectations for celebrating together.

• Clean and disinfect frequently-touched surfaces and items between use.

• If celebrating indoors, make sure to open windows.

• Limit the number of people in food preparation areas.

• Have guests bring their own food and drink.

• If sharing food, have one person serve food and use single-use options, like plastic utensils.

As much as it pains us to say, our traditional, large Thanksgiving celebrations should be put on hold this year. You may want to consider skipping Thanksgiving altogether. We have all made tremendous sacrifices during this pandemic, from canceled graduations to postponed trips to skipping vacations with family and friends.

Unfortunately, we must continue to make those sacrifices.

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