David's guide to surviving Thanksgiving 2020: Stay safe, stay home

This year will be a Thanksgiving like no other. Here's how to keep your family safe.
Written by David Gewirtz, Senior Contributing Editor

For more than ten years, I've updated and published my guide to surviving Thanksgiving on ZDNet. Each year, I've given advice to help techies deal with immersion into a family dynamic they might not otherwise have encountered all year. Over the years, I've added new tips and discoveries that have helped make Thanksgiving successful for thousands of geeks the world over.

This year is different. This is 2020. Surviving Thanksgiving is no longer a hyperbolic term, used to exaggerate the challenges of getting along with your cranky uncle and scoring all the turkey you want. This year, surviving Thanksgiving literally means surviving Thanksgiving. 

This year, Thanksgiving could kill.

Look, I know many of you think that government-mandated lockdowns are impinging on our freedoms. You're right. Any time a government mandates anything, even if it's for our own good, it's impinging on our freedom.

But exercising your freedom doesn't mean making bad choices just because you can. As an adult, you can choose to live off of pizza for breakfast, lunch, and dinner. You have that freedom. But you'll eventually also wind up living with chronic stomach pain. As an adult, you can choose to play with matches all you want despite your mother's best advice, but you could also burn down your house.

Freedom means you can make the choice to take responsibility and to act responsibly.

Now, here's what we're facing. We are living in a global pandemic where the infection rate is growing rapidly. The virus spreads effectively indoors, where people are in close contact. Roughly 1,100 people are dying each day in the United States. Each day. By comparison, roughly 3,000 people died on 9-11. We're experiencing the 9-11 death toll every three days with COVID.

When I was a kid, my parents and I often went over the river (the Hudson) and through the woods (we passed trees) to grandmother's house. Meeting us were my uncle, aunt, and two cousins. Thanksgivings brought us together -- three separate households breathing each other's air and fighting over the dark meat turkey for a very special day.

Even if your holiday celebration consists of just a small family, the odds are your family, like mine, lives in multiple households. If someone is infected with COVID (even if they're not showing any symptoms), that person could then infect the other households in your family.

A few years back, I lost my parents. I think about them all the time, especially around the holidays.

So let's say you decide to go through with your family Thanksgiving because that's what you've always done. It's what Mom really wants, and besides, you don't want to miss out on the turkey. Now, imagine next year at Thanksgiving. 

How will you feel if Mom isn't there? 

How will you feel looking at that empty place setting? How will you feel if you know that all you had to do to make sure Mom was still alive was skip one ceremonial meal -- and you didn't?

The CDC says that family gatherings like Thanksgiving will become spreader events. So how will you feel if you bring home the infection and it spreads, maybe to other members of your church, synagogue, or school? How will you feel about all those families who will have unfilled seats at their tables resulting from your spreader event, all because you couldn't bring yourself to say "no" and skip the family visit for one year?

The city of Chicago agrees. It's asked residents to stay home and skip Thanksgiving to avoid spreading COVID. Many will bristle at the suggestion that the government is telling people how to live. But this year, that's literally true. The government is telling people how to keep living.

Epidemiologists the world over are echoing the recommendations of the CDC and Chicago. Staying home is a message Dr. Fauci is trying to spread as well. The fact is, the chances of the disease spreading drop considerably if you're not laughing and yelling and talking above everyone else around a crowded feast table. And while some folks find the COVID's seriousness hard to believe, there are many threads like this one, with a whole lot of folks reporting hardships due to the pandemic.

I want you to compare worst case scenarios for a minute. Let's say you skip that in-person Thanksgiving event this year. What's the worst case scenario? You might disappoint Aunt Sally and miss out on Uncle Steve's awesome turkey.

Now, what's the worst case scenario if you go through with that in-person Thanksgiving? You might have to bury Aunt Sally and hope Uncle Steve wakes up from the ventilator without brain damage.

It doesn't compare.

Suck up a little disappointment and keep your family and friends safe. Exercise your freedom to protect your family. Show you're strong enough to suffer a little disappointment for the good of the people you love, and for the good of strangers you might never meet.

So, what's David's Guide to Surviving Thanksgiving this year? It's simple: please survive it. COVID kills. That's not a political statement, just a horrible fact evidenced by the unyielding pace of daily deaths. Make smart decisions. Stay home. Protect your family. Do it, not because your government says it's the right thing to do, but because it's actually the right thing to do — especially if you love your family.

P.S. Still want to hang out with your family even if you're not in the same house? Here's the tech angle to this story: connect via Zoom or watch Netflix or Prime Video together using party mode. You'll have to bring your own snacks, but you'll still be able to spend the day virtually with your loved ones. And you won't even have to share the turkey.

You can follow my day-to-day project updates on social media. Be sure to follow me on Twitter at @DavidGewirtz, on Facebook at Facebook.com/DavidGewirtz, on Instagram at Instagram.com/DavidGewirtz, and on YouTube at YouTube.com/DavidGewirtzTV.

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