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Pandemic Forces St. Louisans To Find New Ways To Celebrate Thanksgiving

Chelsea Beck
Many families are forgoing traditional large gatherings to stay safe amid a national rise in coronavirus cases.

This Thanksgiving, families are hoping for clear skies and anxiously checking weather forecasts.

“Luckily, the weather looks like it might be OK,” Shannon Miller said of Thursday’s forecast for St. Louis. As of Monday, forecasts called for temperatures in the low 50s and some clouds.

The Millers, like many families, plan to bundle up and eat outside in an effort to protect themselves from the rapidly spreading coronavirus. Other St. Louisans tweeted that they plan to video chat with family instead of visiting in person or drop off side dishes to the homes of those they would normally share a Thanksgiving meal with. Kaitlin Cavey said in a tweet that she wouldn't be making any traditional foods "because we are eating pie for dinner. No entertaining = We eat what we want."

Public health experts advise against traveling this holiday and recommend keeping Thanksgiving gatherings small and outside, if possible. In the past few weeks, recorded cases of coronavirus infections have soared in Missouri and Illinois. The St. Louis metro area has seen on average more than 2,200 cases per day over the past week, leading to record levels of hospitalizations in the region’s four largest hospital systems.

Canceling or scaling back large gatherings over the holidays will reduce the burden on health workers, said Dr. Alex Garza, head of the St. Louis Metropolitan Pandemic Task Force, during a press conference Friday.

“It will pay off in lives saved,” he said. “I don't know what better bargain you have than that.”

Fewer traveling for the holiday

Many families in the St. Louis region will eat Thanksgiving meals at home without some of their usual guests. Lambert Airport expects to see half of the traveler volume it did in 2019 this holiday season, partly because of people canceling trips to see family members in other cities.

Most years, Miller’s parents would make the four-hour drive from Kansas City for Thanksgiving, but they canceled their trip this year. Miller said she’s disappointed to not be able to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade on TV with her parents.

“It's sad that I won't get to see them on my favorite holiday, but I think probably the scariest part is just like, when are we gonna get to see them again in the future?” Miller said.

Miller hopes she can still host an outdoor dinner Thursday with her in-laws, she said. Her mother-in-law is undergoing cancer treatment and has a weakened immune system, so Miller and her husband are taking extra precautions. They are quarantining at home until Thanksgiving.

Smaller dinners, smaller birds

As family gatherings have splintered into smaller groups, the demand for small turkeys at Kenrick’s Meats and Catering has soared. It’s a trend the south St. Louis County butcher anticipated.

Back in April, the business ordered 2,000 more turkeys than normal. But a majority were around 12-18 pounds, about 10 pounds lighter than last year’s bestselling turkeys, said catering manager Steve Weinmann.

“Now you’re selling two turkeys per family or three turkeys per family because they’re all cooking turkey at their house,” Weinmann said.

More people are tasked with preparing Thanksgiving meals for the first time, and many are willing to pay Kenrick’s to do the cooking for them. Kenrick’s stopped accepting catering orders last Wednesday, after hitting 800.

‘The least thing we can do’

Mary Fitzgerald is hosting Thanksgiving dinner at her home in Kirkwood, but the guest list will be smaller. Several of her family members are recovering from COVID-19 and won’t be there, including her eldest son in Columbia, Missouri, and her mother and sister in Wildwood.

In the scheme of things, it’s not such a big deal to not have everyone together this year, Fitzgerald said. The family has rescheduled holidays before, plus there are other holidays to look forward to once the pandemic winds down.

“I don't focus on what we're missing,” she said. “I just focus on just making our circle a little tighter and just enjoying the time we have with the people around us.”

Fitzgerald plans share photos and recipes throughout the day in a text messaging group with her five siblings.

She plans to cook the full Thanksgiving spread from scratch this year — rolls, potatoes, pumpkin pies. All that prep and baking has been therapeutic for her, she said.

“If this is the least thing we can do right now, when there's so much out there that we can't control, it kind of does feel good,” Fitzgerald said.

Her family plans to eat outside Thursday, if the weather cooperates.

Follow Kayla on Twitter: @_kayladrake

Kayla is a general assignment reporter at St. Louis Public Radio.

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