York County health expert urges families to rethink Thanksgiving this year

Tina Locurto
York Dispatch

One York County health expert is planning a Zoom Thanksgiving as officials fear large family gatherings could worsen COVID-19 case numbers that are setting new records statewide.

Since the start of November, York County has broken records for COVID-19 increases, most recently on Thursday. 

The county's case total hit 8,825, an increase of 193 cases over the day prior. That was the second-highest daily increase on record, the highest being a 238-case increase that was reported Tuesday.

Dr. Matt Howie, the director of York City's health bureau, attributes the boost to community spread and fears holiday gatherings could worsen the situation.

"Without a doubt, we entered a new phase. We're seeing numbers we haven't seen since April," Howie said. "I am worried that when we see these holidays, which are rooted in social connections, we'll surge."

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Dianne Hite, of Shrewsbury, selects local sweet potatoes at Brown's Orchards & Farm Market in Springfield Township, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

Acknowledging the risks associated with in-person gatherings, Howie offered several alternative solutions for celebrating Thanksgiving and ranked them based on how likely a person using them is to contract coronavirus.

Howie said the lowest risk activities would either be limiting an in-person gathering to people you live with or hosting a social event online.

Howie added that another low-risk activity for families could be cooking a favorite dish and delivering it to a neighbor. Virtual "happy hours" could also make for fun, engaging conversations, he said.

On Nov. 9, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention updated its holiday guidance, noting the virus crisis is worsening and that small household gatherings are "an important contributor."

The CDC said older adults and others at heightened risk of severe illness should avoid gathering with people outside their households, according to The Associated Press.

Personally, Howie said he and his family plan on partaking in Zoom festivities to celebrate Thanksgiving.

From back right, Jake Krevetski, looks on as Frank Krevetski, both of Conewago Township, orders chicken salad with grapes from the deli at Brown's Orchards & Farm Market in Springfield Township, Wednesday, Nov. 18, 2020. Dawn J. Sagert photo

In addition, Howie noted some "moderate risk" activities, including hosting Thanksgiving dinner outdoors.

He encourages families to purchase space heaters and have a larger dinner in an outdoor space in order to include outside friends or family.

Howie warned, however, that larger social gatherings have recently spiked cases.

"We're seeing clusters of cases around social events right now," Howie said. "We're letting our guard down, and that can be a problem."

Lastly, Howie advised York County residents to avoid Black Friday shopping, which would be considered a "high risk" activity.

"We'll probably have some folks who are attentive to this and willing to make the sacrifices, and there's going to be other people who are struggling with this and are done with COVID," Howie said.

Local York County businesses, too, are preparing for the holiday rush and making adjustments to deal with COVID-19.

Brown's Orchards, which offers Thanksgiving catering, announced on Saturday it had sold out of both four-person and eight-person catered meals.

In order to prepare meals safely due to COVID-19, owner Mary Brown said the catering department capped orders at 200.

"Even our determination of how many meals is 'sold out' is affected by COVID safety considerations," Brown said. "We determined to sell out at 200 so we could safely prepare and deliver them to our customers."

Currently, Brown said staff members are working on preparing catered meals for pickup on Wednesday. 

All meals come with  turkey, mashed potatoes, stuffing, green bean casserole or baby carrots, corn, sweet cranberry/apple/orange salad and dinner rolls. Customers could also choose either an apple or pumpkin pie for dessert.

All orders will be distributed curbside on Wednesday. 

"We aren’t focusing on what's changed," Brown said. "We're just working hard to make sure that we help our customers celebrate this wonderful holiday as best they can."

— Reach Tina Locurto at tlocurto@yorkdispatch.com or on Twitter at @tina_locurto.