- As Thanksgiving approaches, Americans must decide whether to gather with their loved ones amid the dramatic surge in coronavirus cases and hospitalizations.
- Many public-health experts, including Dr. Anthony Fauci, are tweaking holiday traditions and hunkering down at home with just their immediate families.
- Here's how nine public-health experts are choosing to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.
- Visit Business Insider's homepage for more stories.
As Thanksgiving approaches, millions of Americans face difficult decisions about whether to visit friends and family amid skyrocketing US coronavirus cases.
Public-health experts, too, are weighing the pros and cons.
"I think loneliness, depression, and anxiety are real effects of this pandemic, and people should be seeing each other during this holiday," Monica Gandhi, a professor of medicine at the University of California, San Francisco, told Business Insider, though she added, "my school has a contract that says we can't travel, so I am not going anywhere."
Other experts are also canceling holiday plans and hunkering down at home.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said his children won't be visiting for fear of exposing him and his wife to the coronavirus .At age 79, Fauci faces a higher risk of severe infection.
"My Thanksgiving is going to look very different this year," Fauci told CBS News. "I would love to have it with my children, but my children are in three separate states throughout the country, and in order for them to get here, they would all have to go to an airport, get on a plane, travel with public transportation."
Here's how other experts plan to keep their families safe this Thanksgiving.
Some experts are celebrating virtually
Neil Sehgal, an assistant professor of health policy and management at the University of Maryland School of Public Health, is skipping Thanksgiving with his family for the first time in over a decade.
"I couldn't live with myself if I infected my mom and my dad," Sehgal told The Washington Post.
To visit his parents safely, Sehgal said, he would have to travel by car, quarantine, and get tested - a set of precautions with "a nail-biting level of complexity."
"The emotional toll, for me, is not worth it," he added.
Francis Collins, director of the National Institutes of Health, also canceled his extended family's Thanksgiving for the first time in 27 years.
Angela Rasmussen, a virologist at Columbia University School of Public Health, also said she sees the risks of gathering in person as too high. Rasmussen tweeted several weeks ago that she'd miss seeing her parents, brother, sister-in-law, and niece this year.
"I'd rather celebrate the holidays with them over Zoom ," she said, than risk the possibility of FaceTiming someone who's in the ICU.
Being forced to stay home, some experts said, could offer an opportunity to get creative with holiday traditions.
"I'm having my kids plan our Thanksgiving menu," Keri Althoff, an associate professor of epidemiology at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, told Today. "I'm pretty sure we're having popcorn and macaroni and cheese. And they'll remember that, and that will be fun for them."
Althoff's immediate family isn't traveling, she said, but they plan to say grace with relatives via Zoom.
Others experts are skipping the turkey
William Schaffner, a professor of preventive medicine at Vanderbilt University, said his family will be gathering but not eating this Thanksgiving. The family will get together in a socially distanced manner for an hour-and-a-half, he said - but they'll skip the meal, since eating would require them to remove their masks.
"We're not having Thanksgiving in person around a dinner table. We'll all be very happy to see each other, but no hugs or kisses," Schaffner told WebMD.
Other experts will eat outside.
Anne Liu, an immunologist and infectious-disease doctor at Stanford Health Care, told Today that usually, her uncles, aunts, cousins, and grandparents get together. But this year, the family is scaling back.
"We may try to do small gatherings outdoors, in a distanced, masked setting where we're not sharing food, which all seems sort of antithetical to Thanksgiving. But at least we may be able to see each other," Liu said.
For Irfan Hafiz, an infectious-disease specialist at Northwestern Medicine, the decision not to see extended family wasn't easy.
In September, when coronavirus transmission appeared to have slowed, Hafiz's family considered having a somewhat regular Thanksgiving, he told Today. But October's record-breaking surge in cases forced them to rethink the plans.
"I called my mom up and just told her that it's probably not a good idea to be getting together for Thanksgiving this year," Hafiz said. Now only his immediate family will celebrate together.
Most public-health experts are optimistic that the 2021 holidays will be easier to navigate, though.
"This year is the COVID year. Thanksgiving has got to be different," Schaffner told WebMD. "Let's not get too excited about this. It's only one year."