By Michelle Wagner | Outer Banks Voice on November 25, 2020
With the number of COVID-19 cases surging across the country, the Centers for Disease Control last week urged people not to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday and recommended that celebrating virtually, or with people you live with, is the safest choice.
State and local health officials followed suit and released guidelines that strongly encourage the same recommendations. “The best way to reduce your risk of viral transmission is to limit travel during the holidays and limit physical contact with people who do not live in your household,” stated a Nov. 20 update from the Dare County Health and Human Services Department. (DHHS).
To get a sense of what this Thanksgiving in a pandemic would be like, the Outer Banks Voice surveyed a number of prominent community members via email to see how they planned to celebrate their Thanksgiving holiday, ask whether COVID-19 impacted their plans this year and if so, how.
All but one of the respondents noted that the pandemic had clearly altered how they would be spending the holiday — whether it meant not traveling, not having family visit the Outer Banks or shrinking the guest list considerably, wearing a mask and social distancing.
While one respondent noted that the pandemic didn’t change his plans, his traditional celebration was already in line with public health guidelines for the holidays.
“I encourage all of our residents to stay home and hold more intimate gatherings this year and to focus on the reasons we all have to be thankful,” said Outer Banks Hospital President Ronnie Sloan. For Sloan, COVID-19 hasn’t changed his plans significantly because he and his family typically stay local and keep it small. “I will be staying home this Thanksgiving with my wife and youngest son, who is still at home,” he noted. “We will connect virtually with our daughter, son-in-law and grandson who live in Atlanta and then our oldest son who lives in Washington, DC.”
DHHS Director Sheila Davies and her immediate family typically have a large get-together with her brother’s family, her sister’s family, her parents and her mother-in-law. But COVID-19 changed that this year. Instead, she said, she will be at home celebrating Thanksgiving with just her husband and two sons. “We plan to have a traditional Thanksgiving meal at home and then start decorating for Christmas,” she told the Voice. Her family will connect with extended family via Duo and FaceTime instead of physically being together. “While definitely not the way we want to be spending Thanksgiving, we know it is safer than all getting together face to face,” she concluded.
Dare County Schools Superintendent John Farrelly also plans on staying home for the Thanksgiving holiday and will be cooking dinner for his wife and children this year. He said the COVID-19 pandemic, coupled with the surge in laboratory confirmed cases, has prevented members of his family from making their traditional trip to North Carolina this year.
As for Nags Head Mayor Ben Cahoon, initially his daughter and son-in-law in Durham were excited to host their first big Thanksgiving celebration this year with about 10 guests. “The idea had been to spread the guests out, on the patio, in the yard, and under the carport. But as much as everyone wanted to be together, even that approach felt too risky,” Cahoon acknowledged. Instead, Cahoon and his wife, Melanie, will host their son and Melanie’s mother. “Our son lives alone and works from home. And Melanie helps with her mother’s health care, driving to weekly appointments, so our circle is not being expanded,” noted Cahoon.
Even with the four of them, Cahoon said the group will spend most of the time spread out in the house and plans to dine on the screen porch if weather permits. And while they don’t have any plans like “virtually” cooking with their daughter and son-in-law, he added that they’d be in touch with them during the day.
Beach Food Pantry Executive Director Elisabeth Silverthorne also plans on staying home for the holiday. She’ll be sharing Thanksgiving dinner with her husband, but they are leaving a three-hour or so window of time open where they will keep a virtual hangout open so friends and family can “drop in” and visit as they are able. “COVID-19 hasn’t changed our plans as much as it has others,” she admitted, adding that their families live far away and both her and her husband’s work schedules have always prevented them from traveling over Thanksgiving weekend.
“Since it’s just the two of us, we like going out to eat and/or spending Thanksgiving with friends here, rather than cooking at home,” she added. “This is probably the biggest change for us – deciding to spend it at home. Hopefully, the virtual hangout option will provide the fellowship we crave. And, as a silver lining, it may also help us ‘visit’ with people we don’t normally get to on Thanksgiving.”
Outer Banks Community Foundation Executive Director Lorelei Costa said COVID-19 has changed her holiday plans in that she won’t see her mother, a Massachusetts resident, who she hasn’t seen in a year. “I will miss her,” she noted, adding that she is grateful to be spending Thanksgiving dinner with her son, Godfrey, and her best friend and neighbor, Jennifer, and her husband.
Costa also said it will be strange to wear a mask while cooking, but added, “This year, I’m thankful that my dining room and kitchen are all one room, which means that we can eat dinner together but still be six feet apart.
Outer Banks Chamber of Commerce President Karen Brown said that she plans to enjoy Thanksgiving Day with just her husband and their dog, Brody. In years past, her father from New Jersey would come visit her over the Thanksgiving holiday and spend the week. “This year, he will be staying in New Jersey with my sisters,” she noted. “At ninety-two years young, we want to make sure he stays safe and is able to come celebrate with us next year!”
For the past 20 years, Dare County Board of Commissioners Chairman Bob Woodard and his wife have hosted both their families in their Kill Devil Hills home. “The family looks forward to this annually, but unfortunately it will not happen this year due to COVID-19,” Woodard acknowledged. “2020 has been difficult for the entire country due to the pandemic, but I’m optimistic for a brighter 2021.”
And Kill Devil Hills Mayor Ben Sproul plans on enjoying turkey, sweet potatoes, pumpkin pie and all the fixings “in our bubble with the bubble-mates.” He said the family may hit the beach for some skim boarding if the weather holds. For the Sprouls, this Thanksgiving will also look different due to COVID-19 since his family usually travels two to five hours to visit one set of in-laws or another. “So, we are embracing a smaller meal at home with no travel,” he noted. But some traditions will carry on regardless of the raging pandemic.
For Outer Banks Hospital’s Sloan, that means remembering all there is to be grateful for. “As we do every year during lunch, we will open our thankful box and read our 26 reasons to be thankful. We have a tradition that we put one item in the box each day beginning Nov. 1,” he pointed out. “After lunch, we will start with the tree and then move outside, decorating for Christmas.”