Moss Beach resident Katy Jaeger’s family looks forward to Thanksgiving all year long. Each fall, they gather to eat a potluck-style meal and play a family football game. It’s the biggest tradition in their family, even as the kids have gotten older.
But this year, Jaeger said, will be different.
The COVID-19 pandemic is forcing families on the Coastside, across the state and around the world to begin thinking about how they plan to celebrate the holidays safely this year. Health officials here and across the nation are asking residents to stay sheltered. Last week, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, Dr. Anthony Fauci, said families should be prepared to cancel or significantly alter their plans because of the virus, and the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention posted somber holiday guidance on its website.
San Mateo County public health officials have stressed time and again that residents should avoid family gatherings that combine multiple households indoors and without
safety measures. A large portion of cases and spreading events, County Health Officer Dr. Scott Morrow said, are tied to small family and other social gatherings, where mask wearing and social distancing aren’t being practiced.
“Many, many of our infections are related to fairly small gatherings of family and friends,” Morrow wrote in a July 20 statement. “Birthday parties, picnics, eating at restaurants with mixed households, etc., without the basic precautions being taken. Most of these gatherings are innocent, no doubt, not intending to spread the virus, but they do spread it, and with far reaching implications.”
The upcoming Halloween and Día de los Muertos celebrations spurred the county to take action, issuing a statement on how to celebrate safely. It promoted celebrating with decorations and meals within households, and strongly discouraged gatherings and trick-or-treating.
Jaeger is staying flexible and making contingency plans so everyone is comfortable. She said that if the weather is good, her family hopes to host a small potluck-style meal outdoors with masks, social distancing and other agreed-upon safety measures. Their annual football game will have to be canceled.
Carmen and Daniel Ramos of Gilroy are making similar adjustments. They’ve been sheltering in place in Santa Clara County, where testing is widely available and case rates have remained low. But this year, with most holiday events canceled, they won’t be hosting big celebrations.
“It’s kind of sad, but it’s for all our protection,” Carmen Ramos said.
The couple was in Half Moon Bay this weekend celebrating their wedding anniversary. They said they feel comfortable taking small, local car trips, but wider traveling on planes still doesn’t feel completely safe. Daniel Ramos is planning to pick up their daughter in Chicago for the holidays, a trip that makes him nervous.
Some, like Ramos, are finding that traveling is taking on new elements. El Granada resident Barbara Norman is planning a trip to Scottsdale, Ariz., for the two weeks her husband has off each year. She said that although prices are low, she’s only comfortable traveling if she knows ahead of time what safety precautions are in place. Last month, she took a flight and said that with the middle seats empty, everyone masked, and a slow, careful boarding process, it felt safe.
“Everything was as I would have expected,” Norman said. “I think the travel industry is working really hard to keep open and safe.”
Others are finding that having these conversations is the hardest part. Half Moon Bay resident Stephanie Gunn has yet to meet her new grandson. Part of her family is taking very strict precautions and she understands, even if she doesn’t always agree with them.
Her priority is to develop a plan that makes everyone comfortable. She wants to make sure she’s being respectful of other people’s boundaries and that they are respectful of hers.
“People are on different pages,” Gunn said. “It’s tough. I just said to them, ‘We will see you when we can.’”