Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and for most of us, it is a time to be thankful for … the day off of work. But it is traditionally a day off where we spend the entire day with family and friends. Grandparents dote on their grandchildren, all of the guys gather around the television and high five each other when their team wins the ball game. Finally, everyone gathers around the table and shares the food family style.
But this year is like no other due to COVID-19. Because these large family gatherings can potentially be multiple small-scale superspreader events, many state and local governments have tried to find ways to restrict Thanksgiving activities. Almost all have discouraged having the traditional extended family gathering and have provided health and safety guidelines. And some have banned gatherings of more than a certain number of people or a certain number of households. Some city officials have stated that police may randomly visit houses and issue fines to those who are not complying with these orders.
Despite these measures, I think we all know that most families will still celebrate Thanksgiving together. People are still flying in for the holidays. They are lining up for hours at Costco or Walmart to get the last-minute turkey and toilet paper. Granted, the gatherings will likely be smaller than years past. And most families will try to comply with the law as best they can and do whatever they can to ensure that everyone will be safe.
But let’s face it. We are all relying on the honor system. We assume that the people we invite are responsible. No one is going to ask a friend or family member for proof of a negative coronavirus test. We’ll think Cousin Johnny’s cough is just the flu. We’re not going to tell our elders to socially distance themselves from their grandchildren. And no household is going to sit down to individual tables six feet apart, eating Thanksgiving-style TV dinners while talking to each other using Zoom or Facetime.
Most of those who have not been infected think the virus is someone else’s problem. I’m sure we all know of at least one local news story where one infected person went to a gathering and ended up infecting everyone. As a result, everyone who attended had to quarantine and get tested, miss work, and keep their distance from family members. Some may have even been hospitalized. But that’s not going to happen to us. We’re good, responsible people, right? The people on the news must have done something bad, or maybe they didn’t pray hard enough.
The government could take a very draconian action and force everyone to stay home tomorrow. But that will draw outrage from people who are getting tired of yet another lockdown when the last one didn’t work. And I suspect a large amount of people will ignore the order.
As for enforcement, how far is the government going to go? I’m sure the police will step in when there is violence involved, or if the party is louder than their neighbors can stand. But I really don’t see the police having the manpower, time and the willpower to do a door-to-door inspection on every house. Do they really want to break up an otherwise peaceful family gathering because it was one person over the recommended limit?
I think the solution is to simply be careful and do our due diligence before deciding to go to a family Thanksgiving gathering. Think about the family members attending. Does one of them constantly post about COVID-19 being a hoax? Does another preach on social media about distancing and mask wearing but three hours later posts a selfie of themselves attending a questionable party? If you have bad vibes about certain people attending, then seriously reconsider going yourself.
If there is an organizer for the gathering, they should be required to ask everyone attending about any potential exposure to COVID-19. They should also ask the attendees about their thoughts on COVID-19, social distancing and mask wearing. Those who seem risky should be discouraged (or even banned) from attending. Unfortunately, this may include healthcare workers. Food can be sent to them, and they can meet with the family remotely and virtually.
If possible, attendees should be encouraged to get tested if they can get a result by Thanksgiving.
This may seem overly intrusive for a family gathering but I like to think that people will be understanding given the times we live in. We can all enjoy Thanksgiving better knowing that everyone who attends is being responsible. And those who cannot attend should be given accommodations.
Most governments have imposed restrictions on our Thanksgiving activities in the hopes of controlling the spread of COVID-19. However, I don’t think everyone will follow them strictly. It is up to us to do the right thing. As long as everyone takes some common sense precautions, I like to think that the curve will be flattened over the holiday weekend. Otherwise, the next day will be a different kind of Black Friday and the government might be forced to be the Grinch on Christmas.
Steven Chung is a tax attorney in Los Angeles, California. He helps people with basic tax planning and resolve tax disputes. He is also sympathetic to people with large student loans. He can be reached via email at email@example.com. Or you can connect with him on Twitter (@stevenchung) and connect with him on LinkedIn.
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