The Pilgrims landed in November of 1620. After a harsh winter and challenging growing season, they gave thanks a year later for their survival with a celebratory feast—the first Thanksgiving.
But it’s a bigger story than that.
During our 2020 global pandemic, it’s helpful to remember why they made a dangerous journey across an ocean to a new land.
The Pilgrims were fleeing government oppression.
King James enforced religious persecution in early 1600s England with fines and imprisonment. The Pilgrims fled, first to Holland, and then to this country.
Government officials are recommending that Thanksgiving dinners be limited to those who reside within your households. That could mean a one-person meal if you live alone or a five-person meal for a couple with children.
Considering that the COVID-19 virus is surging in Iowa, this may seem reasonable.
But the reasonable-sounding doesn’t always hold common sense.
Nobody understands the dangers of this virus better than health care professionals. It’s why doctors and nurses wear N95 masks and personal protective equipment while on the job.
Doctors and nurses work hard, but they don’t work 24/7. At some point the shift ends, and they go home.
Then, they do their best to follow the same guidelines that the rest of us try to follow. Wear masks. Social distance. Wash hands.
And yet, the Mayo Clinic Health System in the Midwest just reported that 905 staff members have contracted the virus within the last two weeks. A full 93% caught it while out in their community—not at work.
When health care professionals—who follow safety protocols—test positive from community spread, it doesn’t seem logical to believe that the rest of us have any substantial control over this virus.
In the meantime, people must still put food on the table and a roof over their head. Many will go to work and interact with the public on Wednesday, Nov. 25 and Friday, Nov. 27, but are discouraged from being with their loved ones on Thursday, Nov. 26.
The Pilgrims found the rulings of King James unacceptable. They didn’t want to give up their freedoms. A two-month journey across a vast ocean in a 100-foot boat to an unknown land was a risk they were willing to take.
If you’re elderly or have underlying health conditions, stay home and stay safe. If you personally feel that staying home is best for you and your family this Thanksgiving Day, follow your instincts and stay put.
But for many, a celebration to connect with family members is sorely needed after a long, hard year. Assess the risk.
A recent study from Indiana University, and published in the Annals of Internal Medicine, looked at the COVID-19 fatality rate by focusing on community populations. The study did not include young children who, for the most part, are not at risk (under 12) or those who are institutionalized (nursing home populations.) It wanted to find out what the risk was for the average person living in a community. This study placed the overall COVID-19 fatality rate at well below one percent—just 0.26%.
That’s still too many. But it’s similar to the fatality rate of other illnesses, like cardiovascular disease.
Will some people die from COVID-19 because they attended a Thanksgiving dinner? Yes.
And some will die from a massive heart attack while enjoying a second piece of pumpkin pie.
But 330 million will live.
Measuring risk, while protecting our freedom, is something we must all calculate.
Not just on Thanksgiving Day, but every day. The Pilgrims understood that.