Editorial: Make smart choices this Thanksgiving

The Virginian-Pilot & Daily Press Editorial Board, The Virginian-Pilot
·3 min read

It’s not too late to make responsible choices about how to celebrate Thanksgiving this year.

Yes, the holiday should be a time to gather with family and friends, to share a meal and each other’s company. And yes, travel has long been an integral part of that — people journeying great distances to make it to the family table.

This year, things will be different. They have to be different.

With coronavirus cases surging across the nation, everyone needs to exercise caution. The virus thrives in crowded, poorly ventilated indoor spaces where close contact is unavoidable. It transmits more easily in colder weather and it’s a particular threat to seniors and those with existing health conditions.

All of these make the traditional Thanksgiving celebrations a danger, especially with case numbers and positivity rates what they are. Marking the holiday as usual could mean inviting the virus into your homes and to your table.

For plenty of people, who have struggled through this pandemic and continue to face tremendous hardship, the loss of Thanksgiving may seem too great. They are intent on celebrating this holiday as before, consequences be damned.

Virginia isn’t going to stop them. Not really.

Gov. Ralph Northam imposed tighter restrictions on the commonwealth which took effect on Nov. 15, but said on Wednesday that he doesn’t intend to further reduce the limit on gatherings from 25 or to prohibit travel, as many other states have done.

Northam said the state would step up enforcement of its mask ordinance and hold people accountable for large gatherings, but law enforcement isn’t likely to crash your dinner if there are 26 people there.

Instead, the governor has left it up to us, urging Virginians to make smart decisions without further government intrusion.

“This is in your hands, Virginia. You know what to do,” he said Wednesday. “And if you do the right thing ... we’ll be able to move forward.”

The governor knows, as public health officials have reported, that family gatherings are likely driving the spread of COVID-19 in parts of the commonwealth, particularly in southwest Virginia.

So are these restrictions enough? They have to be. Virginians should be trusted to act safely and responsibly, and to respect the severity of this virus. They shouldn’t need the governor to say so any more than they need elected officials to require them to wear a mask, practice social distancing and so on.

They shouldn’t act responsibly because the law requires it, but rather because it will make a difference. It will help protect them from being sick and from passing the virus to others. It will help protect Virginia’s health care infrastructure and move the commonwealth toward getting through this crisis.

We should take some comfort that the end may be in sight thanks to the rapid development and positive results of several vaccine research efforts. But we must also recognize that it will be months before a vaccine is widely available to the public, and that this is not a time to imperil others.

If that’s not sufficient motivation, listen to the health care workers who are pleading with the public to help them by following the guidelines. Listen to those who have lost loved ones to this disease and those who were stricken but who continue to suffer from health conditions linked to COVID-19.

Look at the data that show Virginia doing comparatively well amid this latest surge, but which confirm the dire situation across the nation. The governor said Wednesday he was compelled to tighten restrictions here after seeing mobile morgues outside of hospitals because there’s no place to put the dead.

“We don’t need that to happen in Virginia,” Northam said.

Indeed, we don’t. Avoiding that outcome is up to us. It’s up to you.

Celebrate Thanksgiving, but do so safely and responsibly, with your communities in mind, so this is the last one we’ll have to spend apart.

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