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Coronavirus taking bite out of Thanksgiving travel for Sonoma County

Anne Henderson of Rohnert Park is accustomed to the warmth of Thanksgiving celebrations with up to 30 people at a friend’s house and a smaller family get-together at her son’s home.

But Henderson and her daughter, Angelina, 13, have been isolated since the coronavirus pandemic flared. They are caregivers for her ailing mother, Kathy, 74, who suffers from serious lung disease and memory loss.

“If she gets COVID, it will most likely be a death sentence for her,” Henderson said.

So the three of them will dine on a brined turkey breast prepared by Anne, with side dishes and two pies, pumpkin and pecan, made by Angelina.

Downsizing the day for giving thanks — a nearly 400-year-old American tradition — comes as about 150,000 people are getting infected and about 1,000 are dying daily across the country from a viral pandemic making a widely anticipated late-year surge.

Sonoma County families that enjoyed packing their homes with friends and relatives in past years are planning to eat turkey and all the trimmings quietly by themselves, avoiding the risks of travel and commingling with other households that could especially imperil older people.

A Windsor family is planning to cook a turkey over a campfire in Santa Cruz, calling it a "Campsgiving“ that might become their new normal.

Congressman Mike Thompson and Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious disease expert, are part of the trend toward smaller, stay-at-home celebrations.

“Staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others,” according to a declaration Thursday from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, recommending virtual meals, watching Thanksgiving parades, sports and movies on television and finding a game to play.

AAA Northern California expects 6.3 million state residents to travel by car, air or other means, down from 7.2 million last year — a 13% projected drop, the largest since a 26% falloff during the Great Recession of 2008.

The forecast is a “best-case scenario” with actual trips likely fewer as people consider their options, said Sergio Avila, a spokesman for the travel organization.

Seven out of 10 Americans are expected to stay home for Thanksgiving, according to a survey commissioned by the American Hotel & Lodging Association.

“For those who are considering travel for the holidays, hotels will be ready to welcome you,” said Chip Rogers, CEO of the association.

His thinking may be wishful as nearly the same percentage of people are unlikely to travel for Christmas and 44% said their next hotel stay for leisure will be a year or more from now.

Travelers should get a flu shot before departing and follow the usual public health precautions: wearing masks, keeping 6 feet of social distancing and washing hands frequently.

For holiday group meals, the federal agency suggests having guests bring their own food and drink.

Gov. Gavin Newsom and his counterparts in Oregon and Washington last week issued advisories urging the public to avoid nonessential interstate travel and asking people to self-quarantine for 14 days after arriving from another state or country — not exactly conducive to holiday celebrations.

“Travel increases the risk of spreading COVID-19 and we must all collectively increase our efforts at this time to keep the virus at bay and save lives,” Newsom said in a statement.

Dr. Sundari Mase, the county health officer, has asked residents to celebrate virtually if possible and limit groups to 12 people or fewer from no more than three households.

There will be no clinking of wine glasses with their children and grandchildren when Thompson and his wife, Janet, sit down, by themselves, at home in St. Helena.

They will feast on turkey — “the smallest one we could get,” he said — with cornbread stuffing, fresh cranberry sauce, mashed potatoes and a dessert yet to be determined.

The Thompsons have cherished Thanksgiving gatherings with at least 10 relatives and two close family friends, but decided last weekend to forgo the convivial experience.

The sacrifice is worth it, he said, “to make sure we aren’t contributing to the spread of this virus” and he recommended others follow suit.

“Stay home. It keeps you, your family and your community safe,” Thompson said.

Janet Thompson is a family nurse practitioner who has worked at Adventist Health St. Helena, their hometown hospital, during the pandemic.

Fauci and his wife, Christine Grady, a nurse and bioethicist, will have dinner in Washington and talk online via Zoom with their three adult daughters, who live in different parts of the country and elected not to come home for the holiday.

“We’re going to say we had a great Thanksgiving last year, we’re looking forward to a great Thanksgiving next year, but today, we’re going to call a timeout,” Fauci told USA Today.

Not everyone needs to follow his example, Fauci said, but people should “at least pause for a moment” to assess the risks of travel and meals with a dozen or more people.

If not for the pandemic, Deanna Damonte of Santa Rosa would likely be cooking for 16 to 20 members of her family scattered around the county and as far away as Red Bluff and Amsterdam.

But her brother recently tested positive for COVID-19 and her 82-year-old father successfully completed a two-week quarantine after being exposed to him at an outdoor meal, Damonte said.

So she’ll dine on her back deck with her daughter, Emily Damonte Perez, and her husband, Alex Perez, of Rohnert Park, who are expecting their first child. They’ll keep an appropriate distance apart, limiting the meal to about two hours in the warmest part of the day.

Damonte, who will make online connections with other relatives that day, said she is being “extra safe” because of past bouts with pneumonia and her daughter’s pregnancy.

“It’s important to me to protect my health so I will be around to see my grandkids grow up,” she said.

Leigh McTaggart of Windsor is forsaking the usual Thanksgiving family gathering with about 10 relatives, with two at risk of COVID-19 and her older son shunning travel from Salt Lake City.

So she and her husband, Alec, and younger son Andrew, are packing their new tow-behind tent trailer and heading for a campsite near the beach in Santa Cruz, where they will cook a small turkey in a Dutch oven over a campfire.

“We’ve done it before,” she said, adding they also make the pumpkin pie in the Dutch oven, a thick-walled cooking pot.

“I am looking forward to a Campsgiving,” McTaggart said. “Who knows, maybe it will spawn a new tradition.”

You can reach Staff Writer Guy Kovner at 707-521-5457 or guy.kovner@pressdemocrat.com. On Twitter @guykovner.

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