Wednesday, November 18, 2020

Thanksgiving With Family This Year?

The NEW Thanksgiving! No masks required! Now you can enjoy your virtual Thanksgiving meal with the family in the privacy and safety of your own home. No more taking a tiny amount of Aunt Martha’s Jell-O Fruit Salad, eating that one polite bite and covering up the rest with your napkin when you help clear the table. Now you can gaze upon an ultra-high definition image of her jittery canned fruit without having to actually have it slip around on your plate and slime your turkey leg! Add a home theater surround sound system and you’ll replicate the authentic Thanksgiving experience of Ned’s false teeth clacking as he worries on a wing bone and your niece Brianna smacking her lips and softly belching as she reaches for another lumberjack-sized portion of mashed potatoes. And the best part is that after dinner you won’t need to sit on the couch between rowdy cousins Bill and Ed to watch a football game! You can just say goodbye and click on “Leave Meeting.”


For many of us, Thanksgiving will be different this year and we’re not at all happy about that. L.A. County permits Thanksgiving family dinners with no more than two households, outside, wearing masks, sitting six feet from each other and a two hour time limit. Oh..and each family should bring their own food and utensils. Yeah. Right. But a recent survey shows that 55% of people will ignore Health Department orders and spend Thanksgiving with their family the same as always. 40% say it will be with more than ten people and the majority say they won’t be wearing a mask.

For those evaluating the risk of being with family and friends on Thanksgiving, it would be wise to do so under the assumption that nobody will be wearing a mask. That’s because the guidelines to wear a mask in the company of others, except when you are eating, give us a false sense of protection and may impair our ability to wisely evaluate the risks. Let me explain. Most of us will be inside and the current guidelines are to wear a mask and stay six feet apart. We sit around and talk for, let’s say, an hour before the meal, removing our mask to drink and to eat the  appetizers. We all then remove the masks and for the next hour or so we sit two or three feet away from each other or across the table from each other while we eat, talk, joke, laugh and belch. (Okay maybe that last one is just my family) Studies have now shown that Covid is spread by talking and breathing and so, after filling the air with large droplets and aerosolized microdroplets from our lungs and potentially exposing everyone at the table to any virus we may have, we put the mask back on and return to the living room. That means that assessing the risk is asking yourself, “I’m I comfortable with the thought of every invited guest, possibly sitting unmasked three feet away from my face while they’re talking and laughing?”

In California where we are already experiencing a major surge in coronavirus cases, hospitals are preparing for a post-Thanksgiving rush that could be overwhelming. Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infections Diseases said last week that we need to evaluate the risk of gathering with family and friends. He tells us that we need to consider age, underlining medical conditions, testing and quarantine of people who have traveled. We also need to consider the life-styles of all others who will be invited to that Thanksgiving dinner. Are they mask or no mask people? Do they go to dinners at friend’s houses or restaurants? Hang out with a large circle of friends or shelter at home with the cats? Unless we know them well enough to answer those questions, we must consider them to be potentially “high-risk” to us. Dr. Fauci said that maybe right now is not the time to have people in your house when you have to take your mask off as you’re eating and he encourages us to “seriously think about the risk-benefit ratio” meaning that a Thanksgiving feast may not be worth the two weeks in the hospital. .

As much as we love Thanksgiving, we must set aside our emotional desire to be with family and friends and objectively consider the risk. Because the most reliable tests generate false positives and false negatives, testing isn’t the answer. According to the Centers for Disease Control, the current best estimate for Covid-19 infections that are asymptomatic is 40%. That’s why temperature screening and health questions are not the answer. As long as masks must be removed during the actual dinner, masks are not the answer. We need to use prayerful discernment in deciding how we spend our holidays this year. 

There are no “Covid Scriptures” in our Bible other than the one to “Love one another.” That means to do them no harm and we need to understand that our strong emotional desire to be with family and friends no matter what the risk, is a self-centered one that may impact the health of the loved ones we most desire to see. Loving others means not just evaluating the risk to ourselves but to our loved ones as well. I pray that God gives each one of us a heaping measure of both wisdom and discernment during these most difficult of decisions.  Amen?

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