Safely gathering

Dorothy Robinson of McComb prepares for a different kind of Thanksgiving this year — immediate family only, mask wearing and social distancing as precautions against COVID-19.

Turkey, ham, greens, dressing, sweet potatoes, face masks, sanitizer — all are likely to be found at tables this Thanksgiving.

In less than a week, the U.S. will observe a holiday which typically draws large numbers of extended family and prompts cross-country travel for many — but this year occurs in the midst of surging COVID-19 cases.

Mississippi State Health Officer Dr. Thomas Dobbs in recent weeks has strongly warned against the type of large, indoor, multi-household gatherings common during the holidays, which have the potential to be community spreading events for COVID-19.

In Pike County, where the weekly average of new virus cases is climbing back to July numbers, many families are planning to change their Thanksgiving celebrations to varying degrees to maintain some traditions while staying safe as possible.

Dorothy Robinson of McComb, a former teacher at Summit Elementary, will be cooking for a smaller group than usual, around 10, mostly immediate family.

They’re planning to meet at one of the family’s bigger houses that has more room for everyone.

She especially wants to keep things safe for her son-in-law, who had a heart attack a few years ago and may be at higher risk for the virus.

Two of the guests coming to dinner have already had the virus and recovered.

Robinson keeps her mask close at hand at all times and is a stickler for screening symptoms, even at home.

“Everybody’s on lockdown. Nobody’s been traveling in my family,” she said. “We limit our visitors. I want to check your temperature if you’re coming to my house.”

Her youngest daughter, Porchia Green, a film major in her senior year at Loyola University in New Orleans, is taking extra precautions since she’ll be the only one coming in from out of town.

“She got tested, and she’s been very careful,” Robinson said. “I bought her so many masks when she went back.”

Green lives off-campus in an apartment, which has also helped limit her exposure, Robinson said.

Her family usually entertains a bigger crowd at Christmas than Thanksgiving, but she’s ready to change that this year, too.

Larry Pray, a retiree from Summit, is not planning to change his holiday traditions. Around 15 of his family members will get together next week.

“We’ll have a big family meal all Thanksgiving Day in St. Helena Parish, La.,” Pray said.

They’re not worried about the virus, masks or social distancing since none of them are traveling far, he said. Some of them have already had mild cases of the virus.

“I would think though if you travel to places you’re not from, with that you should be careful,” he said.

Former Pike County Supervisor Lexie Elmore is choosing a much smaller gathering — four or five people, all from her household except one nephew traveling from Washington D.C.

“Normally we would have a traditional Thanksgiving with out-of-town guests. We would gather with my mom. She’s 95,” Elmore said. “This year we decided to forego that gathering. We don’t want her to come into contact with the virus at all.”

Her nephew has tested as a precaution before traveling. She is going to urge mask wearing and distancing during the holiday.

“I would recommend that to the people this year, because it’s just very serious. It’s frightening to realize that so many people have lost their lives,” Elmore said.

Gregory Partman, pastor of Community of Believers Cultural Fellowship in McComb, sees changing his Thanksgiving like any other disaster plan.

“When they tell us a hurricane is in the gulf headed up I-55, we get prepared. If they tell us there’s a tornado down on the ground moving east on 24, we get prepared. When we’re told the numbers are rising, then we have to prepare ourselves for that as well,” he said.

Cory Thomas, a McComb salesman who recently moved from Covington, La., will return there for a minimal, outdoor meal.

Kayce Bates, in town from Texas for the holiday, will keep it “pretty intimate, just family,” at her uncle Jason Tate’s house in McComb, she said.

Amanda Macon, who works at McComb Market, said only close family will eat lunch with her, then go pick out their Christmas tree, as is their Turkey Day tradition.

“Mostly because of scheduling, because my daughter lives in Hattiesburg. We probably would’ve still done the same,” Macon said.

Precautions aside, Elmore’s still looking forward to the traditions that don’t require a big group.

“We’ll eat and get full and probably watch football, fall asleep and wake up and eat a little more,” she said.

And Robinson thinks there’s still plenty to be thankful for.

“We’re going to be very thankful to be able to see Thanksgiving, because a lot of people lost their lives to COVID-19,” she said.

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