family-thanksgiving-covid The Huerta family on December 2019.
Image via Maritza Huerta

“I am immensely grateful that my family is healthy and gets to see tomorrow. I have a lot of friends who can’t say the same.”

Maritza Huerta, a 34-year-old Mexican American living in Maryland, has nine siblings. Her father also has nine siblings, and her mother does too. When you come from a big Latino family, the holiday season is extra special. But how does a tight-knit family like Huerta’s spend time together during a pandemic? They can’t.

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“I feel extremely blessed that my parents who are in their 70s have been healthy during this whole thing,” Huerta said in an interview with The Americano. “I feel like they haven’t contracted it because they have angels watching over them, not because they haven’t been in risky situations.”  

Huerta is originally from Anaheim, California, where most of her family lives, including her parents. She said her family lives within a 5-mile radius of her parents, so staying away from each other has been difficult. It’s easier to social distance in Maryland, Huerta said, and most people wear masks, but in California, especially around friends and family, it’s more challenging to be apart from each other and decline invitations. 

“We value being close to our family,” Huerta said. “Being around each other is such an important part of our culture.” But added, “What makes our culture beautiful is also killing us.”

More than 8 million people have contracted COVID-19 in the US, and many of those cases are among the Latino community. The APM Research Lab reports that 1 in 1,360 Latinos has died (or 73.5 deaths per 100,000) of COVID-19. Between June 9 and Oct. 13, Latinos experienced the most COVID-19 deaths among any other group in California.

For people who’ve been away from their friends and family for the past several months, many were looking forward to going back to normal during the holidays. Still, with a third wave of COVID-19 looming, health officials say it’s best to refrain from social gatherings.  

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Dr. Irfan Hafiz, at Northwestern Medicine who specializes in infectious diseases, said two weeks ago he may have said small gatherings in non-hot spot areas would have been okay. However, things have changed rapidly for the worse. 

“The statistics are just not favorable right now,” Dr. Hafiz said in an interview with The Americano. “We see almost all states across the United States with increased numbers and possibly another wave or continuation of the wave that we saw earlier this year.”

Dr. Hafiz said celebrating Thanksgiving with a small group outdoors could be deemed as safe; however, now, with the colder weather, it’s probably best to cancel a big holiday dinner. Dr. Anthony Fauci said the same thing. 

“My Thanksgiving is going to look very different this year,” he said in an interview with CBS News on Oct. 13.

“I would love to have it with my children, but my children are in three separate states throughout the country, and in order for them to get here, they would all have to go to an airport, get on a plane, and travel with public transportation,” Dr. Fauci said.

In early September, Huerta flew back home to see her parents. But before she knocked on their door, she quarantined for two weeks and took a rapid COVID test. She said it was hard to be just a couple of miles away from them and not be able to hug them. Every morning her dad would leave her a cup of coffee on her doorstep, and her mom would drop off lunch. 

“Are you sure we can’t hug you?” Huerta recalls her dad saying to her. 

Once she was in the clear, she finally got to hug her parents after months of being away. 

She said for Thanksgiving, instead of their usual house-hopping from one sibling to the other, they will have a small dinner with her parents and brother. 

Huerta advises people trying to figure out their Thanksgiving plans to “be very strict about what your plan is” because she says family and friends may try to deter you from it either intentionally or unintentionally. 

Dr. Hafiz said he will most likely spend Thanksgiving with his immediate family. 

“I realize that for everyone, the holidays are stressful, and you wanted to get out and meet people because loneliness is hard,” Dr. Hafiz said. “But it’s probably not a good idea to have a lot of people get together.”

Click here for information from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on the risk of spreading COVID-19 during holiday gatherings.  

UPDATE (October 16, 2020, 6:20 p.m.): This article has been updated to correct that Maritza Huerta has nine siblings, her father, and mother do as well.