Thanksgiving gatherings- Risks and benefits

Here at MedShadow, we pride ourselves on giving you the information you need to make informed decisions about your health to balance the risks and benefits of illnesses, medicines, alternative treatments, and lifestyle.

The convergence of the COVID-19 pandemic and the Thanksgiving holiday gives us the rare opportunity to provide insight into how each of us has evaluated the risks and benefits — to ourselves and to our loved ones — of gathering with family and friends in these unusual times. Below, each staff member walks you through how they reached their decision on holiday plans this year.


Every year since I started college, I’ve managed to go home and spend the holidays with my family. As Thanksgiving lurks around the corner, I’ve realized how much I took that simple accessibility for granted. The season won’t feel the same without being in my childhood home.

For the most of this year during the COVID-19 pandemic, I’ve stayed put in New York City and lived through the lockdowns, shuttered stores and the fear that plagued its residents. I’ve stayed healthy and socialized with a quarantine bubble of good friends. 

A couple months ago, as case numbers eased and restrictions were lifted, I was optimistic that I would visit my family for the holidays. These days, I’m not so sure. My parents live in Georgia, a state that has not been stellar about pandemic protocols. Cases are on an alarming rise in rural and suburban communities there and elsewhere. 

My gut tells me I should take the safest option for everyone: stay in NYC and not risk exposing my family to any potential dangers traveling by airplane or car. It’s just one year, and hopefully fewer family gatherings will mean fewer new COVID-19 cases.

Unfortunately, my heart is struggling a bit with this reality. I haven’t seen my parents since December 2019, which is the longest I’ve ever gone without seeing them. There isn’t necessarily a right or wrong decision, but I hope I can make the right call when the time comes. 


I’ll spend this Thanksgiving quietly at home with my husband and daughter. We would  usually spend our holiday enjoying the company of both sides of the family, as we’re lucky enough to live within an hour of most of our loved ones.  The majority of our extended family are either high-risk or have not been as careful social distancing as we have. My mother, who lives with my brother’s family, is elderly and frail, has COPD [chronic obstructive pulmonary disease] and several other underlying conditions. We’ve been especially vigilant about protecting her. 

At the height of the COVID-19 curve in New York, she was hospitalized with a severe gallbladder stone and infection . Because facilities were overwhelmed, surgery at that time was impossible, and she was given a stop-gap procedure and heavy antibiotics. The trauma and her combined medicines induced hallucinations. She thought she was at sea and the hospital was the aircraft carrier her father was stationed on in WWII. The heroic nurses who held her cell phone so I could speak with her assured me that her visions were not so far from reality: “It feels just like a war zone right now,” they said, “like nothing we’ve seen before. But your mom will be alright now and hopefully home by Easter.” Thankfully, she was. 

That’s why this holiday, we’ll stay distantly grateful for her and the family’s safety and health. We’ll give thanks now for future gatherings and reflect on the great loss of so many memories and lives. This year is different. Our thanks are deeper.  


I usually like to spend Thanksgiving week traveling. I visit friends and family or even other parts of the world. Last year during Thanksgiving week, I was vacationing in London and Mallorca, an island off the coast Spain that sits in the Balearic Sea. With travel restrictions and many locations still struggling with surging COVID cases, I’ll be spending the holiday in my home with Netflix and probably a couple Zoom Friendsgiving events. There won’t be any Macy’s Day Parade this year, but we’ll still have the Cowboys and Washington football game to watch. This year has taught me a lot. Those lessons include cherishing every moment with family and friends and never taking traveling the world for granted.


This year is not just Thanksgiving in pandemic times, although that alone would be enough to amp up the holiday’s drama factor. This year, Thanksgiving falls on November 26, my 50th birthday. The decision of whether to celebrate Thanksgiving with others didn’t weigh too heavily on me. The hard part was deciding how to handle plans my friends and I made a year ago to celebrate this marker of half a century of life on a sun-drenched cerulean-blue beach not named the Rockaways or in Queens. 

Thanksgiving in my house had already been moved to Black Friday in deference to my birthday dinner, but that has meant I have had to make some agonizing decisions about who to spend time with. For months, I have stood by my “Mask-Off Matrix,” a sort of mathematical calculation about which select few people I can spend time with sans mask. The matrix is constantly tweaked based on who sees whom and when. Everything has to add up.

I have a pod with another family, and we all agree to its terms. We follow Dr. Fauci’s guidelines for outdoor and indoor gatherings. [Dr. Anthony Fauci is the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.]The standard is this: If I am taking my mask off indoors, then you need to be in my pod. And if you are not in my pod, then both of us need to test negative for COVID and have quarantined for 14 days beforehand. None of us lives in a bubble, and nobody is 100% risk-free. I have offended friends and family using this standard, but it is the only way I feel comfortable making decisions when my life, and the lives of those I love, are at stake. By minimizing risk, I hope to live another 50 years with plenty of time to spend with my loved ones on a beach somewhere, celebrating much more than just me.


My family is small, and we don’t make a big deal out of most holidays. But for Thanksgiving, my mom, brother and friend always get together and I spend a few days cooking a feast fit for a 12, just for the four of us. It is our absolute favorite holiday. I usually get a call from my brother in July or August, just to say he’s daydreaming about the sausage stuffing I’ll make for Thanksgiving in several months. But my mother is high-risk, and I’ll need to get on a plane if I want to spend the holiday with them. I’ve chosen not to travel mainly to protect her, but I also hope that by not flying, I’ll be doing my part to reduce the chances of exposing others as well. 

I had the opportunity early in October to take a long drive to visit them. Upon seeing that cases of COVID-19 trending upward throughout the U.S., I decided to make us a Thanksgiving dinner a month and a half early. I already knew that I probably wasn’t coming back in November. Now that cases and deaths are even higher than I’d imagined they’d become, I’ll be staying home. My brother is disappointed, but I promised we’ll see each other over Zoom this Thanksgiving. Also, whenever it makes sense for me to travel again, we’ll have multiple out-of-season Thanksgiving celebrations. There’s no bad time of year to be thankful — or to eat sausage stuffing.


The day after my wedding, 35 years and nine weeks ago, my father-in-law declared Thanksgiving to be “their” holiday. While this was the first time I’d heard him say it, “Robotti Thanksgiving” had already been their date to gather for years. Christmas, Easter and the 4th of July are all optional, but Thanksgiving has always been mandatory. 

Over the decades, children grew up, married and became parents themselves. Now, Robotti Thanksgiving typically includes 24 people. Years ago, we found a rental to fit us all and we spent Thanksgiving weekend there playing games and cooking. 

But this year, my sister-in-law has decided for health and safety reasons, she will stay home and spend the holiday with her partner and two adult daughters and their partners. Five of the kids are spending Thanksgiving with their other parent. We let the rental house go this year. 

With fingers crossed, my husband and I will host our smaller group of 15 extended family members. The oldest is my 97-year-old mother-in-law, who understands the risks to her health and adamantly chooses to be with the family anyway. The parents of the youngest, a five-month-old, are both healthcare professionals, so they know the risks, too. 

Is this a good idea? We’ll take some precautions. Instead of our usual group cooking, my husband and I will do all the work ahead, wearing masks. The long weekend gathering will morph into just one afternoon. Of course, our guests will isolate for a few days ahead. We’ll see. Life in COVID-19 is a series of calculated risks, and our family is worth it.


I love Thanksgiving — the food, the warmth of the gathering, the secular aspect. Yet as much as I like the holiday, the only constant to my Thanksgiving days is enjoying a tasty meal with loved ones.

Every few years, I reinvent my Thanksgiving. I have cooked and staged an all-day affair for eight friends at my Manhattan apartment. I have also been a guest at friends’ places. One year, I traveled to the home of my D.C.-based sports-obsessed cousin and her family, where food and football ruled the day.

More recently, I’ve spent the holiday near Greenville, South Carolina, with my generous niece, her family and friends, my nephew and my Atlanta-based sister. Usually after the meal, we humans loudly compete in board games, while a Chihuahua and a cat look on. It’s always a lot of fun.

This year, due to COVID-19, I’m not hosting, or traveling. As much as I’d like to go to South Carolina, I declined the invitation. In my view, it’s a spreader situation in the making. Plus, I would have to fly there, and I’m not yet ready to board a plane.

In conversations with my niece and sister, I’ve realized that they don’t mask up and follow precautions the way we do in New York. Typically, my sister goes out dancing and to pool parties and potlucks in Georgia. My nephew is a hospital phlebotomist, who has just recovered from COVID. There will also be two nieces traveling from Los Angeles, guests who don’t think the pandemic is a problem and others in attendance who regularly go to crowded bars. The last thing this group needs is a New Yorker in the mix.

Health and safety are top of mind these days. So although I’ll miss my family, this year, I’m happy to stay put, mind protocols, Zoom and chill. On that day, I’ll also look forward to the Thanksgivings ahead, when COVID-19 has faded and we’ll all give thanks in each other’s loving company while feasting on a good meal.

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