President-elect Joe Biden said he and his family are having the same difficult conversations that all Americans face: how to safely celebrate Thanksgiving as coronavirus infection rates surge.
“Let me tell you what health experts have said to me,” Biden told reporters in Wilmington, Del., Monday. “They strongly urge that if, in fact, we’re going to have Thanksgiving with anyone, that we limit it to maximum, maximum — they suggest five people — maximum 10 people, socially distanced and wearing masks, and people who have quarantined.”
At a time when President Trump’s White House has abdicated all leadership when it comes to fighting the spread of COVID-19, Biden stepped into that role by making a plea to Americans: Follow the advice of experts, even if that means gathering in your backyards, keeping 6 feet from your masked relatives, or bringing Zoom to your tables to join together remotely.
“Now look, I just want to make sure that we are able to be together next Thanksgiving, next Christmas,” said Biden, adding that he and his wife Jill decided to limit the number of people at their own holiday celebration, and to ensure everyone has tested negative for COVID-19 within 24 hours of the event.
But even families that can afford to have everyone take COVID tests should know they are not a foolproof way to protect your Thanksgiving gathering, nor are they advised by public health experts as the sole precaution. Rapid tests only reflect when a person has been infected long enough to have a high viral load. That’s why infectious disease doctors, including at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, are recommending that people who do gather do so only if they have no symptoms, are outdoors with masks, at a distance, in as low numbers as possible, and bring their own food or at least their own plates and utensils, while frequently sanitizing surfaces and hands.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert — who is opting not to spend Thanksgiving with his own children as a precaution against spreading the virus — said that face coverings should be mandatory at any gathering. In a “CBS This Morning” interview Monday, Fauci said, “even if it’s a very small group, to the extent possible, keep the mask on.”
It’s understandable that most Americans are craving the comfort of family and friends after enduring 10 months of a pandemic that has infected more than 11 million and killed nearly a quarter-million people in this country alone.
And because those numbers continue to rise rapidly — nearly every day the record for new infections is broken — this year must be different. Sometimes love means having to say you’re sorry, but you can’t break bread with extended family members. Americans need to have a plan in place to keep themselves and their loved ones safe — even if it means staying away from everyone outside of our immediate households.
As Biden correctly noted, this must be done “not just for your sake — for the sake of your children, your mother, your father, your sisters, your brothers, whoever you get together at Thanksgiving.” It should also be done as a matter of public safety to stop the spread of the virus and save lives. Even small gatherings in homes have contributed to the recent surge in COVID-19 cases. Robert Redfield, director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, told governors on a call last month that such small gatherings are an “increasing threat,” and that the same restrictions that are being imposed in public spaces like stores and restaurants should be in place at home.
“Particularly with Thanksgiving coming up, we think it’s really important to stress the vigilance of these continued mitigation steps in the household setting,” Redfield said.
The CDC recommendations on home gatherings also urge anyone who is symptomatic or has been exposed to COVID-19 in the last 14 days to skip any gatherings. Those who live with people who have a high risk of exposure should also stay home, according to CDC guidelines.
Keeping your distance from those you love most is especially hard during the holidays. That connection is precious — but the lives of these very people we are closest to are at stake, and so are those of our fellow Americans. The Globe editorial board is grateful to families who protect their communities by staying physically apart this Thanksgiving.
This editorial first appeared in the Boston Globe on Nov. 17.