Tomorrow is Thanksgiving Day, and for most of us it is a time to be grateful for … the day off. But it’s traditionally a day off where we spend the whole day with family and friends. Grandparents love their grandchildren, all the boys gather around the TV and high five when their team wins the ball game. Eventually everyone gathers around the table and shares the dining family’s style.
But this year is like no other due to COVID-19. Because these large family gatherings can potentially be several small super-spreader events, many state and local governments have been trying to find ways to curtail Thanksgiving activities. Almost all have advised against traditional gathering with extended families and provided guidelines on health and safety. 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 the police can visit homes at random and impose fines on those who do not follow these instructions.
Despite these measures, we all know that most families will continue to celebrate Thanksgiving together. People are still going on vacation. You stand in line for hours at Costco or Walmart to fetch turkey and toilet paper at the last minute. Granted, the gatherings will likely be smaller than in years past. And most families will try to obey the law as best they can, doing everything possible to make sure everyone is safe.
But let’s be honest. We all rely on the honor system. We assume that the people we invite are responsible. No one will 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 are not going to tell our elders to socially distance themselves from their grandchildren. And no household will sit down at individual tables six feet apart and eat Thanksgiving-style TV dinner while talking to each other on Zoom or Facetime.
Most who haven’t been infected believe the virus is someone else’s problem. I’m sure we all know at least one local post where an infected person went to a meeting and ended up infecting everyone. As a result, all participants had to be quarantined and tested, missed work, and kept their distance from family members. Some may even have been hospitalized. But that won’t happen to us. We’re good, responsible people, aren’t we? The people on the news must have done something bad, or maybe they didn’t pray hard enough.
The government could act very draconian and force everyone to stay home tomorrow. But that will upset people who are fed up with getting banned again when the last one didn’t work. And I suspect a large number of people will ignore the order.
How far will the government go in enforcement? I am sure the police will intervene when it comes to violence or when the party is louder than its neighbors can handle. But what I really don’t see is that the police have the manpower, time, and willpower to do a door-to-door inspection of every home. Are you sure you want to break off an otherwise peaceful family reunion because it was someone who was above the recommended limit?
I think the solution is to just be careful and do our due diligence before you decide to go to a family Thanksgiving Day. Think of the family members present. Do any of them keep writing about COVID-19 being a joke? Another preaching on social media about distancing and wearing a mask, but posting a selfie of himself attending a questionable party three hours later? If you are in a bad mood about certain people present, then seriously consider leaving yourself.
If there is an organizer for the gathering, they should be encouraged to ask all attendees about possible exposure to COVID-19. You should also ask participants for their thoughts on COVID-19, social distancing, and mask wearing. Those who appear risky should be discouraged (or even banned) from participating. Unfortunately, this can include healthcare workers as well. Groceries can be sent to them and they can meet with family remotely and virtually.
Whenever possible, students should be encouraged to get tested to see if they can get a result through Thanksgiving.
This may seem overly intrusive for a family gathering, but I like to think that given the times we live in, people will understand. We can all enjoy Thanksgiving better when we know better that everyone who attends is responsible. And those who cannot attend should be given shelter.
Most governments have restricted our Thanksgiving activities to control the spread of COVID-19. However, I don’t think everyone will strictly follow them. It’s up to us to do the right thing. As long as everyone takes some precautionary measures, I like to think the curve will flatten out over the vacation weekend. Otherwise, the next day will be a different type of Black Friday and the government could be forced to be the Grinch for Christmas.
Steven Chung is a tax attorney based in Los Angeles, California. He helps people with basic tax planning and tax dispute resolution. He is also personable with people with large student loans. He can be reached by email at [email protected] Or you can connect with him on Twitter (@stevenchung) and connect with him LinkedIn.