‘Where there’s a will, there’s a way’
COVID-19 doesn’t end Thanksgiving
Thanksgiving is normally apolitical.
But COVID-19 is making the holiday political this year, if only by the signals families are sending, based on what they’re fixing to do.
The family of Steve Elfelt, a local activist who has worked for redistricting reform and climate change action, has laid out elaborate plans designed to ensure against COVID-19 transmission not only for Thanksgiving, but for Christmas and New Year’s.
Don Bowers, an employee of the Altoona Parking Authority, is making only a minimal change for Thanksgiving.
The Elfelts normally go to his in-laws’ home in Susquehanna County for Thanksgiving, but this year, they’re spending the holiday at home by themselves — although they may get together with others for a hike, in keeping with recommendations from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention to consider outdoor activities, Elfelt said.
The Elfelts normally spend Christmas at home, but this year, they’ll be going to Susquehanna County to visit those in-laws, who are vulnerable to COVID-19 — but not before quarantining as a family for 14 days, an effort that will entail transferring their daughter from in-person learning at school to remote learning at home.
The Elfelts plan to forgo their traditional New Year’s get-together with friends from Ohio.
Bowers will have turkey and trimmings at his house as usual, with his girlfriend, a couple of co-workers and one or two grandchildren.
“I’m not changing,” Bowers said. “I don’t care if it kills me, I’m going to have Thanksgiving dinner.”
He doesn’t plan to “maintain distance,” the guests probably won’t be wearing masks, and he won’t be checking temperatures — although if someone develops a cough or sneeze, they probably won’t come, he said.
He doesn’t dismiss the threat of the coronavirus.
“I’m worried when I go to bed at night,” Bowers said. “Everyone is worried.”
And he wears a mask at work. But “you have to live your life,” he said.
He plans one safety concession for Thanksgiving: he’ll be dishing out food from the pots and pans or platters onto the plates of his guests.
“So there’s not multiple people scooping out the food and breathing over it,” he said.
He and his guests will be watching the Steelers in the evening — even though Bowers is a Packers’ fan. “Turkey, trimmings and football,” he said.
Angela Lynch’s family normally gets together with her mother, her sisters “and all their extensions” — including nieces from elsewhere in Pennsylvania and nieces and nephews from other states.
This time, everyone’s staying home, she said.
Her Thanksgiving will comprise of her, her husband and two adult children — and won’t include her mother or his mother.
“COVID has spiked in Blair County, and it’s irresponsible to put any relatives at risk,” said Lynch, who works at COPY-Rite on Union Avenue. “We love them too much to take the risk of making them sick.”
She’s OK with the drawback this year, although she has a regular outlet that makes it easier: group texting with her sisters and nieces.
“It’s a silly thing,” she said. But it keeps them all connected.
One recent chain began with a niece who’s a teacher sending a picture of her hand reddened by frequent use of sanitizer.
They’re all “crafty,” so their handiwork — her stained glass, her sister’s quilts, her mother’s painting — are frequent subjects of discussion.
Sometimes, it’s just “what’s going on in the world,” she said.
“Once someone starts, everybody jumps in,” she said.
The group includes her mother, who is 84.
The interaction is so frequent that “I don’t feel like I miss them,” Lynch said.
“We’re a very happy, casual family,” she stated.
Peach and Joe Maschue normally go to their daughter’s family’s house in Ellicott City, Md., for Thanksgiving, but this year, they’re staying home alone for Thanksgiving.
They’re a little fearful of the virus, Peach said. They’ll Skype instead with Gail, Fernando and their two daughters, Peach said.
They Skype with their daughter’s family every now and then, including major occasions.
“We did it for my birthday,” Peach said. “Thanksgiving is certainly a big one.”
Cindy Beauchamp will be with her two sisters and their families, who are all from around here, along with their mother, for whom the sisters are regular caregivers.
They’ll be wearing masks, except when they’re eating.
They won’t be joined by Beauchamp’s niece and her husband from Maryland, because that family would be obligated to quarantine for 14 days when they return home, as the husband is a government worker, Beauchamp said.
John Frederick’s family celebration will consist of him, his wife, Kathy, and sons Mark and Jared — “very, very small,” Frederick said.
“Our household has tried very hard since March to do what we can to reduce the odds of something being carried further,” he said.
Mark lives at home, and Jared visits weekly — and wears a mask when he does, Frederick said.
Frederick thinks the “silly partisan divide” that separates maskers from refusers is fading.
“Many people understand it’s still worth the effort to protect the people you love, and even the people you don’t know,” Frederick said. “I heard someone say recently that you might not be able to have Grandma for Thanksgiving this year, so that you might have Grandma at Thanksgiving next year.”
Elfelt was recently reminded of the potential problems with small gatherings at home by something that happened with his brother’s family in Texas.
They had out-of-town guests, and invited their own kids, with their families, over to eat.
It turned into “a super-spreader event,” because one of the out-of-town guests had COVID-19, but didn’t realize it, Elfelt said.
Everybody present got the virus, and Elfelt’s sister-in-law is now in intensive care.
At long holiday dinners, people are close together, telling stories, speaking loudly, laughing, having fun, Elfelt said.
“It nurtures the soul,” he said.
But the moisture from their mouths is emitted in “an explosion of microdroplets,” said Elfelt, whose wife is a microbiologist from Penn State. “Everybody rebreathes it,” he said.
People can have a similar experience outdoors, he said. “So the breeze can blow all that crap somewhere else,” he said.
If the weather is inclement on Thursday, they can do it Friday or Saturday or some other day, he said.
“Where there’s a will, there’s a way,” he said.
Mirror Staff Writer William Kibler is at 814-949-7038.