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Families across Maine and the country are considering — perhaps reevaluating — their Thanksgiving plans as coronavirus spreads uncontrollably in most states.
The simple — and best — advice is to stay home.
The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommends that people celebrate only with people from within their own households. If people do choose to invite others into their homes, the CDC recommends they invite only people who live within their own community, and to stay masked and socially distant if they will all be indoors together.
On Friday, state officials announced another 247 cases of coronavirus, another daily record number. Hospitalizations are also rising rapidly with 18 people in a critical care unit as of Friday.
Unlike earlier in the pandemic, when many cases were traced to large gatherings, state health officials attribute the current rapid rise in cases to the proliferation of small gatherings. That’s why they are particularly concerned about Thanksgiving, when families often travel and gather for meals with family and friends.
These connections are vitally important, but so is protecting the health of family, friends, coworkers and community members.
To reiterate, health experts suggest that we forgo gatherings. Instead, spend the holiday only with those who live with you.
“My family and I love to cook. It’s what we do. But who is at our table is going to look a lot different this year than it has in previous years,” Dr. Nirav Shah, the head of the Maine Center for Disease Control, said Monday. “It’s probably just going to be me and my immediate family and our dog. And that’s sad.”
It is sad, and it is important to acknowledge that.
We, and public health officials, know the importance of connections with family and friends, and that those connections are even more important during the stress and isolation of the ongoing pandemic. Key questions to guide your Thanksgiving decision making should include: Are there alternatives to an in-person gathering? Rather than invite people over as she typically does, University of Maine professor Jacquelyn Gill and her husband plan to cook a big Thanksgiving meal, which will be packaged for pick up by those who would typically be invited to dinner. They will then all join a Zoom session to eat together. Not as good as in person, but much safer.
Who will be put at risk by a gathering? Elderly relatives who are most susceptible to COVID-19? Is the risk worth the temporary joy?
If you are insistent on a larger gathering or on traveling to be with family, know the risks of that decision and take steps to reduce those risks.
If you plan to travel or have family or friends traveling to Maine from most other states, a 14-day quarantine or a negative coronavirus test is required when entering or returning to the state. Gov. Janet Mills on Friday ended the waiver of these requirements for travel to and from Massachusetts. Vermont and New Hampshire remain exempt from the testing and quarantine requirements, but obtaining a COVID test before or after travel remains a prudent move.
“With the virus spreading all across our state, Maine people must take steps to protect themselves and others,” Mills said in a press release Friday. “Wear a face covering. Stay apart from one another. Do not attend gatherings. Avoid unnecessary travel. Wash your hands. We know these are the best tools we have to prevent the spread of this deadly virus and to keep our economy moving.”
2020 has been a heck of a year, but there’s still much to be thankful for. Toward the top of that list is the respect and care Maine people have shown each other despite the challenges, loss and uncertainty presented by the ongoing pandemic. We all can continue that thoughtfulness by factoring safety, for loved ones and for ourselves, into our Thanksgiving plans.