Empty seats, delivered feasts as virus changes Thanksgiving
COVID-19 pandemic has upended holiday traditions for many
Vivian Zayas can’t keep herself from scrolling through photos of last Thanksgiving, when her mother stood at the stove to make a big pot of rice and beans and then took a seat at the edge of the table.
That was before anyone had heard of COVID-19 and before it claimed the retired seamstress. Ana Martinez died at 78 on April 1 while recovering at a nursing home from a knee replacement.
The family is having their traditional meal of turkey, yams, green beans and rice and beans— but Zayas is removing a seat from the table at her home in Deer Park, N.Y., and putting her mother’s walker in its place.
“It’s a painful Thanksgiving. You don’t even know, should you celebrate?” asked Zayas. “It’s a lonely time.”
Americans are marking the Thanksgiving holiday amid an unrelenting pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than a quarter of a million people in the United States.
Zoom and FaceTime calls have become a fixture at dinner tables to connect with family members who don’t want to travel. Far fewer volunteers are helping at soup kitchens or community centers.
“The holidays make it a little harder,” said Harriet Krakowsky, an 85-year-old resident of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York who misses the big Thanksgiving celebrations of years past and has lost neighbors and friends to the virus. “I cry, but I get over it. We have to go on.”
On any normal Thanksgiving Day, Kara McKlemurry and her husband would drive from their Clearwater, Fla., home to one of two places: his family’s home in another part of the state or her family’s house in Alabama. This year, McKlemurry informed her family there would be no visits. When her in-laws offered to stop by, the couple said no. She and her husband didn’t want to risk infecting anyone or getting the virus themselves.
Still, McKlemurry, 27, wanted to do something unique to mark this unusual holiday — something to let everyone know that she and her husband still feel blessed this year. So, a week before Thanksgiving, she hand wrote notes of gratitude to every member of the family.
“We’re so grateful to have you in our lives,” she wrote on a card with a cartoon fox, “even if we can’t actually be together this year for the holidays.”
In Ogden, Utah, Evelyn Maysonet stepped out of her home Tuesday morning to find boxes overflowing with canned goods, desserts and a turkey. She has been isolating with her husband and son since all three tested positive
for COVID-19. None of them has been able to leave to buy groceries, so they were thrilled to receive the health department’s delivery — and the chance to cherish the things that matter most.
“As long as you have a life and you’re still alive, just make the best of it with you and your family,” Maysonet said.
Americans, millions of whom traveled against the advice of public health officials, tried to stay safe before they hunkered down with their families for Thanksgiving, a holiday remade by the pandemic as case numbers and death tolls rise.
Lexi Cusano, 23, said Wednesday she encountered people standing too close in airport terminals, some not wearing masks or wearing them improperly, on her way from Miami to Hartford, Conn. She said travelers didn’t act any safer on the plane.
“People were just hanging out without their masks on,” said Cusano, who recently took a job in Miami. “I saw them walking back and forth from the bathroom, down the aisles, with no mask on, and I was like, this is a little bit ridiculous now.”
More than 12.7 million Americans have been diagnosed with the virus since the pandemic’s
start earlier this year and deaths have topped 262,200, according to Johns Hopkins University.
Data shows the seven-day rolling average for daily new cases in the U.S. rose over the past two weeks from 127,487 on Nov. 11 to 175,809 on Thursday. The sevenday rolling average for daily new deaths rose from 1,044 to 1,658 over that time.
Millions of Americans took to the skies and the highways ahead of Thanksgiving, despite pleas from elected and health officials to stay home and keep holiday gatherings smaller than usual.
On Wednesday morning, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock urged residents to stay home and meet family online for Thanksgiving to help curtail the spread of the coronavirus.
“Pass the potatoes, not COVID. Host virtual gatherings instead of in-person dinners,” the Democrat tweeted.
Then, less than an hour later, Hancock boarded a flight on his way to Mississippi for Thanksgiving with his wife and daughter, his spokesman Mike Strott confirmed to The Washington Post. The move left critics blasting Hancock for appearing to ignore his own advice at a time when the coronavirus continues to rise precipitously in Colorado.
Hours later, amid mounting blowback, the mayor apologized.
“I made my decision as a husband and father, and for those who are angry and disappointed,
I humbly ask you to forgive decisions that are borne of my heart and not my head,” he tweeted.
The balloons were in the sky and the marching bands took to the streets for the annual Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on Thursday, but coronavirus restrictions meant it was without the throngs of people usually scrambling for a view. Instead of its typical path through Manhattan, this year’s parade was kept to the area in front of Macy’s flagship store and aimed at a television audience instead of live crowds.
There were some familiar balloon faces, of course, including Snoopy, Ronald McDonald, and SpongeBob SquarePants. But the bigger balloons weremissing the numerous handlers who would normally be walking underneath and holding the ropes. This year, they were attached to vehicles that kept them moving.
Even with the pandemic protocols, the fact that the parade took place made it a rare festivity in a city that has seen most of its major events canceled over the last year. The parade organizers recognized that reality, including representatives of some of the New York City parades that hadn’t been able to happen — the St. Patrick’s Day Parade, the Mermaid Parade, the Puerto Rican Day Parade and NYC Pride March.