As United States COVID-19 cases climb toward a new peak and hospitalizations increase across most of the country, more than a third of registered voters (34 percent) plan to celebrate Thanksgiving with friends or family from outside their households, according to a new Yahoo News/YouGov poll — and nearly all of them plan to gather indoors.
Another quarter (25 percent) say they’re still not sure how they will spend the Thanksgiving holiday, meaning that right now, amid a worsening pandemic, a majority of American voters are at least considering joining friends or family indoors on Nov. 26.
The survey, which was conducted from Oct. 16 to 18, reveals just how challenging it may be to contain America’s latest COVID-19 surge. New daily cases recently topped 70,000 nationwide for the first time since July; hospitalizations are on the rise in 39 states, with 16 approaching or exceeding all-time highs. Colder weather is making outdoor gatherings impractical in many places. And the big, garrulous, close-knit indoor meals with friends and family that define the holiday season are precisely the stuff that superspreader events are made of.
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the U.S. government’s top infectious disease expert, told Yahoo News last week that he would not celebrate Thanksgiving with his children because they are concerned about spreading the deadly virus. “I have three children that I would love to see over Thanksgiving,” Fauci said. The 79-year-old doctor noted that he falls in a vulnerable age group.
Yet many Americans won’t be following Fauci’s lead. Beyond the 30 percent of respondents who plan to gather indoors with friends or extended family and the 25 percent who haven’t ruled it out — percentages that could represent tens of millions of people, or more — 9 percent of respondents say they plan to travel for Thanksgiving. Another 9 percent are considering it. And just 21 percent of those who plan to gather with friends or extended family members say they would be willing to cancel their Thanksgiving plans if COVID-19 cases surged in their area.
One month later, it’s Christmas.
The point isn’t to shame Americans into skipping the holidays. We’re all weary of the virus. We all want to hit pause for a special day. We’re all desperate to eat, drink, relax and watch football with loved ones. And we all care about keeping our friends and family safe. There are no satisfying choices here.
But America will face a test on Thanksgiving, and it’s basically just a supercharged version of the test we have faced throughout the pandemic: How much normal is OK right now?
The problem is that it’s a test we have failed time and again in circumstances far less tempting than Thanksgiving — which in turn is why Thanksgiving itself has suddenly become a far more dangerous temptation than it had to be.