Thanksgiving at Laurie Medvinsky’s Edgewood home is usually her family’s most eagerly anticipated holiday. Her mother, who passed away four years ago, absolutely adored the holiday, and would cook up a feast of traditional Thanksgiving fare. But with COVID-19 infections on the rise in the state and county, the Medvinskys' and many other families' Thanksgiving dinners will be less bountiful than usual, as the state attempts to dissuade families from holding large gatherings that could accelerate the spread of the virus.
“Thanksgiving is very near and dear to my family and it’s upsetting,” said Medvinsky. “I want to obviously do the right thing, but I want to be with my family too, so there’s a balance … we’re going to try to figure it out.”
Among other restrictions on bars and gyms, Gov. Andrew Cuomo released new limitations on indoor gatherings on Nov. 11 — no more than 10 people within private residences. The directive was a response in part to small indoor gatherings during Halloween, which apparently caused an increase in clusters of COVID-19 spread across the state. Cuomo has since said he is expecting a rise in active COVID-19 cases during the holiday season.
According to data from Johns Hopkins University’s Center for Systems Science and Engineering, which has been tracking the COVID-19 pandemic, active confirmed cases spiked in Canada after their Oct. 12 Thanksgiving holiday, a cautionary warning for families in the United States.
“My advice on Thanksgiving — don't be a turkey. You don't want to be the turkey on Thanksgiving,” said Cuomo. “You know what love is on Thanksgiving? I love you so much and I'm so thankful for you that I'm not going to see you.”
So how do you celebrate a holiday that’s wholly based on getting together as a family during a global pandemic?
Families in Scarsdale are still trying to find careful ways to celebrate the upcoming holiday with family, but with the unpredictability of the coronavirus, plans could change in the blink of an eye.
May Lee, a Quaker Ridge resident who usually organizes a Thanksgiving meal for her immediate family, as well as friends who can’t make it home for the holidays, is planning a trimmed-down celebration, which probably won’t include her 87-year-old father. Instead, she said she would visit her father with her two sons for an outdoor socially distanced walk in a park. She is still trying to see if her mother-in-law, who is in her late 70s, is interested in coming for a meal at their house. If so she is planning for everyone to be masked until it’s time to eat, keep everyone physically distanced at the table and will open windows in her dining room to increase air ventilation.
“The grandparents live by themselves, so I hate that they’re spending Thanksgiving by themselves,” said Lee. “But [it’s] better to keep everyone healthy and safe.”
Medvinsky, who spent last Thanksgiving in Florida with her husband’s family, is still considering her options, as the virus changes almost daily. Whether that includes a small gathering at her Scarsdale residence or driving to Boston to visit family for Thanksgiving, she is still unravelling how family members (and herself) feel about meeting up for the holiday.
“I think it’s going to be a last minute, game-time decision,” she said.
Resident Lynn Pollack, whose sister-in-law in New Jersey usually organizes Thanksgiving, canceled plans amid the rise in COVID-19 cases.
Now, Pollack is planning to host the holiday meal with her sister’s family, who also live in Scarsdale. In total she is expecting to have eight people at the table and family members have been individually quarantining to ensure the holiday will go on without a hitch.
“If there is any possible way for us to be outside, we will be outside,” she said. “We have two big heat lamps that we bought back in March, so those provide a lot of heat. We recently bought a fire table so that’s more heat. We have some space heaters that we could use”
But, if the weather doesn’t cooperate, Pollack said they would rely on the quarantining and negative COVID test results to enable them to eat inside.
Amid the COVID-19 uptick, students are also starting to come home from college for the Thanksgiving holiday. Gov. Cuomo, as well as New Jersey Gov. Phil Murphy, Connecticut Gov. Ned Lamont, Delaware Gov. John Carney, Pennsylvania Gov. Tom Wolf, Rhode Island Gov. Gina Raimondo and Massachusetts Gov. Charlie Baker all announced plans to encourage colleges and universities in their respective states to provide testing for all students traveling home for Thanksgiving break before they leave campus.
“We know this virus does not respect borders, which is why governors from across the region are working together to stop the spread,” said Cuomo. “Colleges and universities have to do their part by testing all students before they leave, informing them about quarantine rules and keeping classes online between Thanksgiving and winter break. We beat back the COVID beast in the spring, and by working together we can do it once again this winter.”
In October, Cuomo announced new guidelines that would allow out-of-state travelers to test out of the state’s mandatory 14-day quarantine. If travelers were in another state for more than 24 hours, then they’d be required to obtain a test three days before leaving the state. When they arrive in New York, they will need to quarantine for three days and on the fourth day will need to get another COVID test. If both tests return negative, then the traveler is allowed to end quarantine.
Medvinsky, who has a son at the University of Michigan returning for the Thanksgiving holiday, said he is going to be tested before leaving school and will be administered a second test when he arrives home this week. The timing of the test results would come right before Thanksgiving.
Lee, who has a 19-year-old son at the University of Richmond and a 23-year-old son at Georgia Institute of Technology, is planning for both boys to take tests before leaving school and when they return home.
“I’m trying to get them to take a test before they leave but I don’t know how helpful that is in college because they’re not strictly quarantining,” said Lee. “Even the three or four days before, they still have a roommate, they’re still going to see people. They’re trying to be careful, but it’s not a strict quarantine.”
Pollack said her daughter had already arrived from Emory University in Atlanta and received a test before leaving school. She had another scheduled test on Wednesday, Nov. 18.
“Everybody is having a COVID test on either Sunday or Monday before Thanksgiving,” she said. “We’re sort of relying on the testing.”
Many students returning home for Thanksgiving are also not planning to go back to school until the middle of January, opting for remote classes and taking final exams virtually before the holiday break.
Though Thanksgiving is seemingly slimmed down, charity causes are on the rise, especially as families deal with unexpected evictions and unemployment as a result of the pandemic.
For the fourth year in a row Scarsdale High School student Abby Fisher and her family have been celebrating Thanksgiving by giving cooked meals to families in need. The event, in memory of her grandmother Pat, who always enjoyed the holidays, is set to feed 63 families in Mamaroneck on the verge of being evicted due to financial hardships from the pandemic.
Through social media and word of mouth, the Fisher family was able to get 40 Scarsdale families to sponsor the Mamaroneck families who will received cooked or delivered meals the Monday and Tuesday before Thanksgiving.
“In the past we’ve been doing it where we have volunteers come and we cook food,” said Fisher. “Since there’s [coronavirus] we can’t have a bunch of people in one area, but we didn’t want to have nothing at all so we had to pivot.”
Her family was able to link up with a community resource center in Mamaroneck, which provided the contact information for all the families in need of meals.
The Edgemont Community Council announced its first annual holiday food drive which supports the Community Service Associates Soup Kitchen in Mount Vernon. The council has collected almost $7,000 in donations, which will be used to fund $30 baskets of nonperishable foods, which will go to families in need. The council plans to distribute baskets on Nov. 24 and will use any excess funds to work with other organizations throughout the holiday season.
Although there were many hurdles to overcome in 2020, including a divisive national election and worldwide pandemic, families are still finding ways to show thanks during the season.
Admitting it’s been tough, Pollack said she is determined to use the Thanksgiving holiday to express how grateful she is: “Somebody said ‘Everybody’s in the same boat’ and I said, ‘No, everyone’s in the same storm and we all have different boats.’ My boat is actually really quite nice.”