No Thanksgiving-As-Usual This Year, Cape Cod Coronavirus Task Force Says

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Want to have Thanksgiving with friends and loved ones from across the state or maybe even out of state this year?

The Cape Cod Reopening Task Force says you shouldn’t.

The group held a teleconference Thursday morning to discuss an uptick in coronavirus cases as well as resources in the region to combat the virus. A New Boston Post reporter asked the task force about Thanksgiving, which is three weeks away.

Specifically, the reporter asked state Senator Julian Cyr (D-Truro) what the protocol should be when it comes to people having friends and extended family over, as they would in years past. Under these circumstances, Cyr, and two other members of the task force, advised against it.

Vaira Harik, Barnstable County’s deputy director of the department of human services, told people to not have Thanksgiving as usual.

“From a public health point of view, I’ll be a bit more blunt regarding recommendations for Thanksgiving, basically in line with what the governor announced earlier this week that people should really only be socializing over meals and other related activities with the people with whom you live,” she said. “The way that translates to Thanksgiving, unfortunately, from a public health point of view or recommendation is that Thanksgiving dinner and associated festivities only be with the group with whom you live.

“Now I realize that that might be a controversial comment with people wanting to travel and see loved ones and so on,” she added, “but the public health realities of infection control are what caused the governor to make that recommendation and causes me to bring it up a little more pointedly.”

Harik was referring to Massachusetts Governor Charlie Baker’s remarks last month advising people against traveling for Thanksgiving.

“The one thing I would say is this might be a good year — this will be a very unpopular thing to say — this might be a good year not to travel,” Baker said, according to WCVB. “One of the things that creates spread is a whole bunch of people who are in one place where they may be safe and not affected by this traveling to another place and vice versa.”

Cyr agreed with Harik’s assessment, and responded to her by saying, “I think that recommendation is the right one.”

Cyr said that he and his family amended their Thanksgiving plans this year in response to the virus. His reasoning:  to mitigate the spread of the virus.

“I think people need to think very thoughtfully and carefully about their Thanksgiving plans,” Cyr said. “I think how we traditionally have Thanksgiving — if people proceed with their traditional Thanksgiving Day plans, we increase our risk of the spread quite significantly. Thanksgiving is kind of this wonderful and kind of cherished holiday for so many folks and a substantial American holiday, but it’s a little problematic. Not too much compared to other holidays, but I think we need people to think very carefully and thoughtfully about this.

“I know in my family we are not doing the Thanksgiving we traditionally do and we’re looking to have a much smaller Thanksgiving,” he added. “I think we are planning to go for a walk as a family and have the turkey and have the fixings and all that stuff packed up so that everybody can eat back at home that night. We’re urging people to think differently about how they do Thanksgiving, and I think they need to make those plans now because if you look at where the trend is going [for coronavirus cases], I think it’s definitely concerning.”

Wendy Northcross, the chief executive officer of the Cape Cod Chamber of Commerce, offered another idea. She said Thanksgiving is a good opportunity to support some small businesses. 

“We should point people to restaurants that will prepare the to-go Thanksgiving dinner so that people that might want to do something special and different because our lives have been disrupted, the pattern has been disrupted, but Thanksgiving has that strong food tradition, and we continue to get business for our restaurants and keep people safe,” she said.

She also said that in some circumstances, it could be O.K. to have more than just immediate family at the Thanksgiving dinner table.

“There are bubbles,” she said. “People have created bubbles on the Cape where there are families that have been in the same orbit since the beginning, so it’s not just a tiny, ‘I have to sit here with my husband and have dinner,’ but traveling out of state or out of town, I have been speaking with some journalists who have been telling me about their adult children coming for Thanksgiving and we’re trying to think it through as well as the [coronavirus] testing question.

“We are going to continue to reinforce the if-you-travel protocol relative to quarantining and to not traveling to certain states with certain conditions,” she added. “All that information is going to continue to flow over the next several weeks, but we know people are making those plans now and to be really, really mindful of the risks they take.”

The travel protocol Northcross referred to is how people are supposed to quarantine for 14 days when coming to Massachusetts from most states — or from out of the country. The other option for those people is producing a negative COVID-19 test within 72 hours of entering a state. However, the rule exempts people coming from California, Maine, Hawaii, New Hampshire, New York, Vermont, Washington, as well as Washington D.C..

Additionally, she argued that home settings are a risk for spreading the virus — even if some people think otherwise.

“The vast majority of our businesses are doing the right thing,” she said. “They are keeping people safe. Our schools are keeping our children safe. When we let our guard down when we’re together in private homes at gatherings where we’re familiar, we take the mask off and enjoy meals, that’s where we’re seeing a real intersection of transmission and that, of course, is concerning because we come into indoor activity time and holiday time.”