ST. MICHAELS — Susan Thomas is skipping Thanksgiving this year.
The St. Michaels resident said she usually has a large group of family and friends gather at her house for a traditional Thanksgiving dinner, but COVID-19 had dashed those plans.
Thomas ran a list of her remaining options: she could host just a small group of people, do it virtually this year, or maybe have some family and friends gather outside.
In the end, she decided all of the above went against the “core sense of who I am.”
“I love entertaining,” she said. “I love, love having people over. It’s too painful to try and have it in such a minimal way.”
Thomas is not alone. Americans across the nation are grappling with difficult choices this year — who should they see, how should they see them — as the holidays near.
The coronavirus pandemic has nixed some traditional dinners. Many are saying goodbye to the usual fat turkeys for 12, large dinner outings, or long tables saddled with creamy gravy and mashed potatoes — all of those plans typically involve extended family and good friends.
A 10-person poll of Talbot and Caroline County residents suggests that almost everyone is limiting who they are seeing this year in some way, over concerns about the virus or for simple adherence to U.S. Centers for Disease Control warnings and local guidelines.
The CDC recommended on Nov. 19 to not travel or see friends or family outside the household for Thanksgiving. The CDC is also advising against potlucks, singing and loud music over concerns about spreading the virus. The government health agency worries about loud music resulting in singing or louder talking which could spread the virus.
“More than 1 million COVID-19 cases were reported in the United States over the last 7 days,” the updated CDC website says. “As cases continue to increase rapidly across the United States, the safest way to celebrate Thanksgiving is to celebrate at home with the people you live with.”
Gov. Larry Hogan himself said he will not be seeing his usual extended family and grandchildren this year, saying “I’m following my own advice.” Projected President-elect Joe Biden said he will be following CDC guidelines as well.
Dan Conway of St. Michaels will be doing “family Zoom calls” this year instead of the typical gathering.
“Normally it’s a much larger one, but I have parents who are over 80,” he said. “It’s hard not to be close to your loved ones, not to touch them and love them — the things a family does.”
Marykay Powell, of Bozman, lamented that she was only going to be in a “pod of three people” for the holidays this year. Normally, she travels to Baltimore and sees the whole family, about 10 or 12 people.
Still, she said there should be constraints this year in the hopes that things will look better for the next holiday season.
“This is a weird Thanksgiving,” she said. “It’ll be quiet. But I certainly understand and accept that we need to do this. I’m willing to do it for this purpose. I trust our doctors and (Anthony) Fauci, and we must endure some self-restraint in the name of a common good.”
The coronavirus is predicted to get worse as the winter season approaches, with nearly all states setting records in daily positive cases. Hogan said “it will get worse before it gets better” in a news conference last week.
Small businesses are watching as the traditional, busy holiday season grinds to a near standstill. With many avoiding going out and shopping in person, and with Hogan announcing further restrictions on restaurants, bars and indoor places, local businesses are still struggling despite relief money from local and federal governments.
As the holidays near, restaurants are unlikely to see the usual guests they sometimes get for Thanksgiving,
Jennifer Smith owns The Galley in downtown St. Michaels, and she reported that business was slowing on Nov. 18, after the governor said restaurants must reduce capacity from 75% to 50%.
Smith stood on the sidewalk on a cold day, wearing a mask and a coat, and re-organized a small sign advertising the latest sales at The Galley.
“Business will be open as usual,” she said. “We’re adhering to guidelines so once again, we have to modify it. Our seating capacity has gone down and today was the slowest day so far.”
Still, she isn’t necessarily worried about her business surviving. Smith only wants her community to be safe.
“My whole thing is about the safety of the community,” she said. “I’m very disappointed that we are advised to stay away from friends and family, but it’s all about safety.”
Local shops in Easton have seen similar downturns in business, including Cairn Antiques. Kristen Dukes, the owner, said she wanted to thank all the customers who have patronized her business during the pandemic, but she noted that sales were not the same.
“We’ll eventually close for a period of time,” she said. “It’s a natural reaction for what is going on. The autumn is (usually the busiest season) and it’s really hard. But I intend to survive, and my building is being painted, and a new roof being put in. I am as my sign says: ‘Hopeful.’”
Just across the street in Easton, outside the courthouse, Jennifer Payne leaned against a wall and smoked a cigarette. She said this year will be quite different for Thanksgiving.
“Just gonna cook a meal at home with my boyfriend and daughter,” she said.
Payne admitted that it’s quite a reversal from what she usually does: spending the entire day cooking for a large family, then grouping together with the ladies to relax, unwind and watch a movie.
“It’s not quite the same,” she said. “But we have to do it.”