MINNEAPOLIS — Like many Minnesotans, Kris Ehresmann has been pondering how to celebrate Thanksgiving this year during the coronavirus pandemic.
"This isn't theoretical. We're dealing with this in our families," said the infectious-disease director for the Minnesota Department of Health.
"My family is relatively small," she said recently. But if she hosts her two grown children and her father, that represents four households. On Nov. 10, Gov. Tim Walz announced new state restrictions to curb the spread of coronavirus, including no more than three households at social gatherings.
"We're weighing these hard decisions," Ehresmann said. "Our region is at really high risk."
Michael Osterholm, epidemiologist and director at the Center for Infectious Disease Research & Policy at the University of Minnesota, has made his hard decision. He won't be gathering with anyone but his partner this year.
"I want to see my kids and grandkids more than anything," he said. "But eating meals and talking is a perfect environment for coronavirus (transmission.) All it takes is one (infected) person to go into that setting and transmit it to a whole family unit. This is our COVID year. We have to do everything out of ultimate love of family. I know people who have infected (loved ones). The guilt they're carrying around is incredible."
Cases of COVID have soared in recent weeks, and Osterholm expects that upward trend to continue as the holiday season approaches. "The timing is the worst," he said. "We will see an increase" as college students return home for the holidays and deer hunters return from sharing cabins.
The new statewide regulations announced by Walz include limiting social gatherings both indoors and outdoors to no more than 10 people. The state won't be policing private Thanksgiving gatherings, he said, but urged Minnesotans to use the restrictions as a guideline.
The Centers for Disease Control has recommended that Thanksgiving be celebrated outdoors this year. But that's a chilly order in Minnesota, where the temperature on Nov. 26 typically ranges between 25 and 33 degrees.
"That's not going to be the case in Minnesota. It's not practical," said Ehresmann of moving the holiday outdoors.