Risk gathering or stay home: What locals are doing as officials beg you to cancel Thanksgiving

The good news: Tips on managing Thanksgiving this year won’t include how to dodge political conversations with relatives. The big question this year is whether to have Thanksgiving at all.

Which leads to the bad news: Many are giving the wrong answer, according to health officials.

An estimated two in five people nationwide are still planning to host or attend a holiday feast with at least 10 people—and a third of those say they will not ask guests to wear masks, according to a recent survey by Ohio State University’s Wexner Medical Center.

Locally, officials are very aware there’s little that can be done in the way of enforcement about private gatherings, which health officials have said for weeks are a likely cause of a steep rise in COVID-19 cases. Businesses, meanwhile, are being throttled by new restrictions announced last week, and the county is considering a stay-at-home order for nonessential workers if cases continue to spike.

The biggest weapon authorities have in the battle against gatherings is peer pressure, and it isn’t working well enough.

“There’s this feeling out there that it’s safe because you know these people,” Kelly Colopy, the city’s health director, said in a live chat with the Post last week. “But you don’t know.”

The person who made perhaps the most compelling case for a bit of sacrifice this year is Mayor Robert Garcia, whose mother and stepfather died of COVID-19 two weeks apart in late July and early August, respectively.

“If you really love your grandparents and your dad and your mom, then this is the year you don’t see them for the holidays,” he said.

Health agencies around the country are trying everything to talk people into staying home, including begging, pleading and shaming (and no, Gov. Gavin Newsom’s appearance at a birthday gathering last week didn’t help).

Fear is probably the most effective remedy, and to that end, here’s a handy risk assessment tool based on case rates where you live. In Los Angeles County, there’s a 30% chance at least one COVID-19 positive person will be present if you attend an event of 25 people. That percentage gets lower the fewer people that attend but never entirely disappears.

The official guidance from local and regional health authorities is to limit gatherings to no more than three households—under 15 people total—and host them outdoors, limit them to two hours in duration, keep people 6 feet apart and require everyone to wear a face covering.

The best prevention, they say, is to cancel gatherings altogether. (If you need advice on how to break it to family members, here’s a guide.)

We spoke with several people in Long Beach who are having this conversation with relatives and mulling this decision.

‘Not the best thing to do’

Ulises Maldonado, 20, has been trying to convince his mom to keep Thanksgiving to just their own household of four people, including his sister, 18, and brother, 22.

His mom, he said, wants to proceed as usual and invite over the families of his aunts, who live less than a mile away, to eat in their large living room in the Washington neighborhood.

“That’s not the best thing to do at the moment,” he said.

What will Maldonado do to protect himself if his mom goes forward?

“Realistically, probably nothing. Not much I can do. It’s not like I can go anywhere.”

‘The greater good’ 

Ivan Rodriguez, 32, plans to pick up some turkey from his mom’s house on Thanksgiving, then go home and spend the day with virtual company playing FIFA 21 and Call of Duty on his Xbox.

On a typical Thanksgiving, he would have spent the day with at least a dozen family members at a home in Riverside.

“I don’t mind it too much,” the West Long Beach resident said, adding that he’s hopeful a vaccine will be available next year. “I think it’s all for the greater good that we all stay home and listen to experts about staying quarantined and not risking yourself if you don’t have to.

“If it means me staying home and playing video games is the only sacrifice I have to make, well, so be it.”

Supporting local restaurants

Hana Kim, 44, will be supporting local Long Beach businesses on Thanksgiving this year by ordering a tray of lumpia (egg rolls), pancit (a noodle dish) and baked macaroni from Gemmae’s Bake Shop. For dessert, she, her husband and 70-year-old mother will order pecan pie and brioche from Scratch Bakery.

On a typical Thanksgiving, they’d get takeout or visit family in Los Angeles or Chino. But since her mother is at a vulnerable age, they’ve all been quarantined in their East Long Beach home since last spring.

“You get used to it, but it still sucks,” Kim said, adding that she’s been keeping in virtual touch with relatives this year. “As time goes on, your circles start shrinking.”

After her co-worker’s husband died of COVID-19 earlier this year, she said she takes social distancing very seriously. The husband who died was a physician who also passed the virus on to his son, who survived.

Still undecided

Milly La Roe, 42, said planning for the holiday has been a challenge because of her mother’s underlying health issues and grandmother’s advanced age.

“Coming from a very close family, we usually say hello and goodbye with a hug,” said La Roe, who works as a caretaker for the elderly.

Hugs this year are out of the question—at least for her grandmother—but “getting together, depending on my mom’s condition, we might still do that,” she said.

What that get-together will look like is still unclear. She envisions entering the house, walking through a spray of Lysol and going directly to the bathroom to wash hands.

The thought of not seeing her family for the holidays left La Roe emotional. Her mother is suffering from yet-to-be diagnosed medical issues, and recently passed her turkey recipe on to her and her brother.

“If push comes to shove, I’ll just cut the turkey at my brother’s house and bring my mom some,” she said with a trembling voice. “It’s up to us to carry on her tradition.”

Responses from social media

This story was written and reported by Melissa Evans, Crystal Niebla and Alena Maschke.

Editor’s note: This story was updated to show that Ulises Maldonado’s mother wanted to proceed with inviting his two aunts, not his older sisters.

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