USA TODAY International Edition

Many Amer­i­cans face lonely Thanks­giv­ing

Cau­tious iso­la­tion means for­go­ing fam­ily on fam­ily hol­i­day

- Alan Gomez Thanksgiving Day · Celebrations · Greenville, Pennsylvania · Pennsylvania · Turkey · Zoom Video Communications · United States of America · U.S. Centers for Disease Control · Illinois · North Carolina · University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill · Alcoholics Anonymous · Maryland · Washington · Greenville · J.B. Pritzker · Ashville, NC · Asheville · Hormel Foods · Lothian, Maryland

For Jen­nifer Brod­er­ick, the de­ci­sion to spend Thanks­giv­ing alone was a sur­pris­ingly sim­ple one.

Her mother is a car­di­ol­ogy nurse, her sis­ter works at a nurs­ing home and Brod­er­ick has been teach­ing in- per­son classes as an as­sis­tant bi­ol­ogy pro­fes­sor at Thiel Col­lege in Greenville, Penn­syl­va­nia. Since all of them in­ter­act with peo­ple out­side their im­me­di­ate fam­i­lies each day, ex­pos­ing them to COVID- 19, Brod­er­ick said she will stay home.

She may cook a turkey “along­side” her fam­ily via Zoom, or she’s think­ing about mak­ing an un­con­ven­tional meal on this un­con­ven­tional hol­i­day: tacos.

“Be­cause I care about my fam­ily and friends, this is a thing I can do to pro­tect them,” said Brod­er­ick, 29. “If we could do a good job quar­an­tin­ing now, that could con­trib­ute to get­ting num­bers lower, so I can at least think about ( see­ing them dur­ing) Christ­mas.”

The pan­demic is out of con­trol: More than 256,000 peo­ple have died in the USA, schools are closed and the na­tion set records of in­fec­tions mul­ti­ple times over the past week. That has prompted peo­ple to re­think their Thanks­giv­ing plans, many choos­ing to eat a meal known for com­mu­nity and fam­ily alone.

The Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Pre­ven­tion ad­vises Amer­i­cans to keep Thurs­day’s din­ner small – ideally with only peo­ple liv­ing in their house­hold – and to avoid trav­el­ing for the hol­i­day. A bi­par­ti­san group of gov­er­nors and may­ors urged peo­ple to fol­low that ad­vice, ar­gu­ing that it’s more im­por­tant to stay safe and wait for the vac­cines in pro­duc­tion to be final­ized.

Those rec­om­men­da­tions make this hol­i­day sea­son a com­pli­cated one as fam­i­lies ne­go­ti­ate over so­cial dis­tanc­ing ground rules, how to share meals and whether the whole thing should be called off. Roughly one- third of Amer­i­cans live in sin­gle- per­son house­holds, ac­cord­ing to cen­sus data.

Tay­lor Ed­wards, 28, a dig­i­tal mar­ket­ing co­or­di­na­tor in Chicago, was un­sure whether she’d eat alone Thurs­day. Her par­ents are divorced and live in differ­ent neigh­bor­hoods of the city. Ed­wards has mostly stayed home and kept away from her par­ents to abide by the guide­lines, but that’s a difficult de­ci­sion on such a time- hon­ored hol­i­day.

Gov. J. B. Pritzker or­dered a new round of re­stric­tions af­ter Illi­nois’ av­er­age daily COVID- 19 deaths shot up from 37 a day in Oc­to­ber to 84 a day in Novem­ber, ac­cord­ing to data from the COVID Track­ing Project. Ed­wards plans on briefly vis­it­ing her par­ents but has a backup plan in place: She’ll stay home, cook her­self a ra­men pasta dish she found on­line and open a bot­tle of red wine.

The lack of turkey, she said, is in­ten­tional.

“I’m try­ing to take the emo­tional ties off of this pe­riod of time,” she said. “I’m definitely not set. I just know so many peo­ple still mov­ing ahead with Thanks­giv­ing with 10 or 12 peo­ple, and I’m like, ‘ God, you have kids from col­lege cam­puses com­ing in, you have el­derly fam­ily mem­bers.’

“This time next year, we could be in a much bet­ter place, and I want all my fam­ily mem­bers to be there.”

In Asheville, North Carolina, Lind­say Ann Spur­geon will be sep­a­rated this Thanks­giv­ing from an­other kind of fam­ily: her Al­co­holics Anony­mous group.

The 41- year- old has been sober for a lit­tle more than a year, but the pan­demic has made that es­pe­cially gru­el­ing since most AA meet­ings were can­celed. One of her groups tried host­ing a meet­ing out­side, but it was difficult be­cause of all the cars roar­ing past. She’s done meet­ings via Zoom, but Spur­geon said that doesn’t pro­vide nearly the same kind of sup­port as the in- per­son meet­ings.

The hol­i­day sea­son is one of the most dan­ger­ous for peo­ple in re­cov­ery, given all the so­cial gath­er­ings that en­cour­age drink­ing, the cold weather driv­ing peo­ple in­side and the emo­tions as­so­ci­ated with the hol­i­days. That’s why her group held a day­long meet­ing last year on Thanks­giv­ing. Spur­geon is sad­dened it can’t hap­pen again in 2020.

“Those meet­ings are life or death,” Spur­geon said. “For me, it’s mainly the so­cial as­pect of it, to have that mu­tual re­as­sur­ance that we’re all OK, that we’re all do­ing the right thing, that if I wanted to drink, I could call so and so or crash at some­body’s house and drink coffee and talk through it to­gether. But we re­ally can’t do that now.”

For many of the na­tion’s el­derly, there is no de­ci­sion to be made – eat­ing alone is sim­ply a way of life.

Ellen Got­tke, 72, is re­tired, wi­d­owed, sick and es­tranged from what re­mains of her fam­ily. She has closed her­self off from her friends to pro­tect her­self from the coro­n­avirus, spend­ing all her days in­side her mo­bile home in Loth­ian, Mary­land.

The all- en­com­pass­ing quiet has been ag­o­niz­ing for Got­tke. One of her first jobs was run­ning the tele­phone switch­boards now seen only in classic movies. The work was gru­el­ing, tak­ing calls all day, plug­ging in differ­ent cords to con­nect peo­ple to differ­ent parts of the coun­try. But she loved the work for one sim­ple rea­son: “I could talk to peo­ple.”

Thanks­giv­ing used to be a big event for her fam­ily, and Got­tke cooked the turkey and ham each year. This year, she plans to spend the hol­i­day alone with a Hormel mi­crowave din­ner of turkey and dress­ing.

“It’s hor­ri­ble. Just hor­ri­ble,” she said, fight­ing back the tears. “And then I get so mad when I see peo­ple walk­ing around without masks. It’s hard.”

About 27% of adults age 60 and older live alone, ac­cord­ing to the Pew Re­search Cen­ter. Mark Bucher has seen those num­bers play out on his cell­phone.

The co- owner of the Medium Rare restau­rant group based in Wash­ing­ton put out an offer to de­liver a Thanks­giv­ing meal to any­one over 70 quar­an­tin­ing alone. A sim­i­lar effort over Mother’s Day net­ted 225 re­quests. This time? He’s reached 1,000 meal re­quests.

“The orig­i­nal in­tent was to do some­thing up­lift­ing and give back and be thank­ful for ev­ery­thing we have,” Bucher said. “But frankly, what we’ve learned is that the el­derly have been over­looked.”

Bucher said his email in­box has been flooded with tragic sto­ries of el­derly peo­ple suffer­ing alone.

He’s even got­ten calls from the Wash­ing­ton gov­ern­ment offer­ing pack­ets of per­sonal pro­tec­tive equip­ment to de­liver with the meals and ask­ing his driv­ers to re­port back on the con­di­tion of the el­derly peo­ple they visit.

The vol­ume of re­quests has made this Thanks­giv­ing drive an all- con­sum­ing en­deavor, work­ing with DoorDash to find enough driv­ers, or­der­ing enough food to de­liver and talk­ing with pri­vate donors who want to help.

Bucher set up an on­line fundraiser to help de­liver meals through­out the coro­n­avirus pan­demic, and he said those do­na­tions will be crit­i­cal to help all the el­derly peo­ple who have begged him for a warm meal.

“It’s a bur­den, but for what­ever weird rea­son, I see it as an obli­ga­tion,” Bucher said. “I feel like we have to make this hap­pen.”

 ?? CHRIS PIETSCH/ USA TO­DAY NET­WORK ?? Vol­un­teer Keiki Rauschen­burg helps dis­trib­ute Thanks­giv­ing meals do­nated by Keith and Amy Lewis, who own the Once Fa­mous Grill and Quacker’s Last Stop sports bar in Eu­gene, Ore.
CHRIS PIETSCH/ USA TO­DAY NET­WORK Vol­un­teer Keiki Rauschen­burg helps dis­trib­ute Thanks­giv­ing meals do­nated by Keith and Amy Lewis, who own the Once Fa­mous Grill and Quacker’s Last Stop sports bar in Eu­gene, Ore.
 ?? CHARLES REX AR­BO­GAST/ AP ?? Chicago in­sti­tuted a stricter COVID- 19 pro­to­col this month as the coro­n­avirus surged out of con­trol.
CHARLES REX AR­BO­GAST/ AP Chicago in­sti­tuted a stricter COVID- 19 pro­to­col this month as the coro­n­avirus surged out of con­trol.
 ?? FAM­ILY PHOTO ?? Lind­say Ann Spur­geon, 41, of Asheville, N. C., wor­ries about the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day be­cause her in- per­son Al­co­holics Anony­mous meet­ings have been can­celed dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. “Those meet­ings are life or death,” she says.
FAM­ILY PHOTO Lind­say Ann Spur­geon, 41, of Asheville, N. C., wor­ries about the Thanks­giv­ing hol­i­day be­cause her in- per­son Al­co­holics Anony­mous meet­ings have been can­celed dur­ing the coro­n­avirus pan­demic. “Those meet­ings are life or death,” she says.

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