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Josh Bergeron: Celebrating Thanksgiving, coronavirus style

Like many, I’m longing for the day when big family gatherings don’t pose a risk for spreading COVID-19.

My family get-togethers during the holidays are pretty typical. The normal plan is to drive to one location, usually a family member who lives in the Fayetteville area, and enjoy each other’s company.

Not so this year.

Because I’ve got close family in multiple states — North Carolina, Alabama, Louisiana and Texas — holiday gatherings almost always involve two or more families driving two or more hours.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention as well as North Carolina health officials said the best way to celebrate during the holidays is virtually or with members of your immediate household.

“Limit travel and gatherings with anyone who does not live in your household,” N.C. Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Mandy Cohen said in a news release.

News outlets and professional researchers also created visualizations based on COVID-19 data. One that I found particularly useful was a risk assessment tool created by Georgia Tech University that shows the risk level that at least one person at an event would be COVID-19 positive. For an event the size of a typical Bergeron family gathering, about 20, the risk is 25-50% in most North Carolina counties.

But the decision-maker in my family — the grandma on my mother’s side — probably isn’t browsing the internet for data visualizations or looking through news releases about the coronavirus. (She might correct me after reading this column.) Still, she decided it was best to avoid getting together in person this year.

So, like some other folks across the country, we opted for an alternative way of gathering. We fired up Zoom, a digital meeting software, and talked for two hours. I had some traditional food to eat, and it almost felt like a real Thanksgiving gathering.

Gov. Roy Cooper would not have OK’d an in-person gathering of our size on Thanksgiving. A cousin joined during a break in his shift at Duke University Hospital. I took a break from putting the final touches on Friday’s e-edition of the Post. Family friends joined from California. My parents joined from Alabama. The rest of the crew joined from across the Tar Heel State.

My definitive review of Zoom Thanksgiving gatherings is a seven out of 10. They’re are a little chaotic. It’s hard to get a word in because it’s not possible to have separate conversations. Another negative: Grandma-cooked food is almost always better than anything I can whip up or buy from a store. But in a year when seeing family members is more difficult than ever for people like me who live in a different state or city, Zoom Thanksgivings are an OK alternative to getting together in person and risking spreading COVID-19.

Looking forward, it seems likely the advice for Christmas gatherings will end up being the same as Thanksgiving — avoid in-person gatherings with people outside of your household. That could mean a Zoom Christmas gathering with gifts mailed instead of being stashed under a tree. Maybe we’ll open them on camera, too, and I’ll have to hold the camera just right so my mom can see her granddog playing with his new toy.

Whatever comes next, it’ll be nice for the eventual day when I can spend this column writing about a return to holiday gatherings as usual.

Josh Bergeron is editor of the Salisbury Post.

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