Thanksgiving is a time for family and friends, when our loved ones travel hundreds of miles across the country to gather together around a huge dining table practically sagging with food. But, because of the pandemic, that is exactly what we shouldn’t be doing this year.  

Several health and city officials are advising Houstonians against indoor social gatherings this time of year. Both Harris County Judge Lina Hidalgo and Mayor Sylvester have put out pleas for families to cancel their holiday gatherings.

“I don’t care who you are,” Turner said in a recent virtual town hall with the Health Equity Response (HER) Task Force to discuss how to stay safe from Covid during the holidays. “Physical and social separation are the antithesis of who we are. The holiday season is normally a time when you come together, socialize, do a lot of eating and fellowshipping, but unfortunately, that won’t be the case this time if you want to be protective of your own health and of others.”

Turner made clear that these are definitely unprecedented times, and that upcoming holidays are going to have to be celebrated differently to comply with health and safety guidelines, which include wearing masks, social distancing, hand-washing and regular testing, whether one is showing symptoms or not. 

And there are plenty of reasons to be concerned right now, in particular. Although both Houston and Texas saw a drop in Covid numbers after the first peak back in July, the pandemic didn't go away, of course. In fact, cases are once again on the rise in Texas. As of November 18, every single county in Texas was reporting positive Covid-19 results, according the Texas Department of State Health Services. There are now more than 1 million cases of Covid-19 across the state, with close to 200,000 of those coming from right here in Harris County. In Houston, the city’s positivity rate and new case count has been climbing upward since early October.

Because of this, Houstonians have no choice but to adapt and celebrate holidays, including Thanksgiving, separately and safely, Turner and other local officials have urged. If anything, said Dr. Esmaeil Porsa, CEO of the Harris Health System, in a November 17 press conference, people should hold small, outdoor gatherings with no more than 10 people.

Houston-raised Rose Dopkin, a nursing student at the University of Texas in Austin, is doing just that. Every year Dopkin and her family get together for the holiday. “Thanksgiving is a pretty big deal in my family,” Dopkin says. “My extended family—including my mom’s nine siblings—all get together. We don’t really meet up for Christmas or anything like that, so this is the one time we’re all in one place and so we go all out.”

Despite how much they all treasure this annual gathering, Dopkin and her family are opting for an outdoor celebration with just immediate family and significant others this year. “It’ll still be nice, but it will definitely not feel like our regular Thanksgiving,” Dopkin reasons.

Similarly, Gretchen Ducoing, a tax auditor based in West Houston and a mother of three, has had to cancel her and her family’s semiannual trip to New Orleans. Almost every Thanksgiving and Christmas, the Ducoings go to The Big Easy to visit extended family. This year, they’re staying home and celebrating among themselves, not hosting anybody.

“I do think that with everything going on, having the opportunity to have things be a little less hectic in terms of the pace has some benefits,” Ducoing says. “Not being able to see my family is disappointing, but we want to make sure that we’re keeping everybody safe and healthy, so it’s okay.”

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