Lisa Long has never cooked a Thanksgiving turkey before, but she will this year.
Her family gathers in a group of about 15 most years, usually at her house in Starkville, and everyone brings a dish. She usually makes a side dish or a dessert while someone else handles the turkey, she said, but this year the group is limited to just her household — her, her husband and their 10-year-old daughter — due to the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic.
She and her daughter plan to drop off some food at her parents’ home on Thursday.
“(We’ll) say a quick hello from far apart outside and won’t go in,” Long said. “I think my dad is also going to make his typical dish, cranberry salad, and we’ll do the handoff.”
People across the region, state and country plan to forgo their usual Thanksgiving gatherings with friends and family outside their households, in accordance with recommendations from state and national health experts.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommend hosting virtual holiday gatherings and avoiding travel, especially if it would be difficult to socially distance while traveling or if someone has been in contact with people outside their household in the past two weeks.
“Please keep Thanksgiving small, local and outdoors,” State Health Officer Thomas Dobbs tweeted Sunday.
A nationwide investigation published Tuesday by The New York Times indicated only about 30 percent of Mississippians plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with people outside their households — the 14th-highest percentage of any state. Locally, that data shows about 35 percent of people in the Starkville, Columbus, West Point and Mississippi State university areas have these plans.
Long’s extended family lives in the area, and they might all try to meet outside at some point Thursday from a distance while wearing masks if they feel safe enough doing it, she said.
“It’s been a year of tough decisions all around, decisions that we’ve never had to make before,” Long said. “Every day it seems there’s a new decision and a new thing you need to figure out and decide what’s the safest, (such as) that push and pull of wanting and needing to be with your loved ones while also being worried about everyone’s safety.”
‘Just too risky’
Thanksgiving won’t be much different this year than most years for Steens resident Allison Pool.
Her in-laws live next door, her mother lives in New Hope, and the entire group sees each other and not many other people regularly, so they feel safe gathering on Thursday, she said. Some family members will not be visiting from out of state, more as a result of work schedules than virus concerns, she said.
“We never have a really big Thanksgiving,” Pool said. “We do that at Christmas, and we are considering our options for that, not knowing what COVID and restrictions are going to look like. That may change our usual plans.”
Meanwhile, Nancy Hargrove of Starkville will be alone on Thanksgiving for the first time in her life, but she said she does not have a problem with it and looks forward to watching football and the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade.
Her daughter canceled a flight to Mississippi from Colorado with her husband and children less than two weeks ago because traveling through two airports was “just too risky,” Hargrove said.
She had already ordered a large Thanksgiving dinner but plans to put it to use by saving some in her freezer and dropping some off with friends, she said. She also plans to talk to her children via FaceTime and Zoom on the holiday.
Hargrove worries that the country might see a spike in COVID-19 cases and deaths a couple weeks after Thanksgiving if enough people do choose to travel.
“We need to skip this year so that everybody will be there next year when hopefully (the virus) is under control,” she said.
Caution from college students
Keely Jones, of the Bay St. Louis area, loves cooking with her family but will be cooking for Thanksgiving alone this year in Starkville, she said.
Jones is a junior at MSU and was recently quarantined due to COVID-19, so she said she will not go home and risk exposing her family to the virus.
MSU had 85 positive student cases of COVID-19 in the two-week period from Nov. 10 to Nov. 23, according to data on the university website, and 259 students quarantined as of Tuesday.
Jones plans to FaceTime her family, whom she said she hasn’t seen since August because MSU eliminated its usual fall break this year.
“It’s sad I won’t be seeing them until Christmas, and they’re sad too because they don’t get to see me that much,” she said.
Similarly, MSU senior Aniya Wren-Daniel will stay in Starkville due to her required quarantine period after testing positive for the virus. Her family in the Jackson suburbs is already planning a smaller gathering than usual, she said.
“I was kind of sad my mom canceled (plans), but my family’s health comes first,” Wren-Daniel said.
Thursday is her last day of quarantine, and she said some friends might drop off some food at her place, but she will not be cooking her own Thanksgiving meal.
“I had to cook for my (student) organization a couple of weeks ago for a Friendsgiving, and after that I tested positive, so I don’t really want to cook anything else related to Thanksgiving,” Wren-Daniel said.
Tess Vrbin was previously a reporter for The Dispatch.
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