No matter how you slice it, Turkey Day will look a lot different this year. What else is new? It’s 2020. If we heed public health warnings and we value our own lives, as well as the lives of our family members and friends, we must adjust.

The coronavirus pandemic is raging nationwide. Infection rates, hospitalizations and deaths have skyrocketed in California, including in Kern County, and in most other states.

Last week, California passed a grim milestone. More than 1 million Californians had been diagnosed with coronavirus at some point in the pandemic. Texas, a state always anxious to boast of getting the jump on California, actually reached that milestone days earlier. 

To prevent the health care system from being overrun by sick and dying patients, Gov. Gavin Newsom last Monday halted efforts to ease restrictions that allowed businesses to open and some normalcy to return to Californians’ lives. Many counties, including Kern, which was in a more relaxed “red tier,” were placed in a “purple tier,” which is the state’s most restrictive.

The purple tier means that restaurants can only serve diners outside, and churches, gyms, movie theaters and museums may only conduct activities outdoors. The California Department of Public Health is also now requiring everyone in the state to wear face masks when outside their home, except in limited situation.

As Newsom was announcing the emergency action, Kern was reporting a seven-day average of 17.9 cases per 100,000 residents, up from 8.9 per 100,000 the week before. The seven-day average positivity test in Kern was 8 percent, compared to 5.2 percent the week before. 

Local doctors were pleading with the public to reign in lax practices and return to wearing masks, keeping a distance of six feet from others and washing hands thoroughly and frequently.

“We have to go back to our due diligence,” Bakersfield pediatrician Dr. Namisha Amin told The Californian. “I think unfortunately moving back into the red tier sent this message that you don’t have to worry anymore.”

Noting community spread is increasing throughout the state, the governor echoed the local doctor’s warning, “We are now moving backward, not forward.”

Going backward endangers all Californians’ lives. It also endangers the state’s economy and the jobs millions of Californians depend on to support themselves and their families.

If we want to get back to “normal” — whatever that looks like — when the months-long pandemic is brought under control, we all must take this pandemic seriously and follow federal and state public health guidelines. Scientists will be developing the vaccines and treatments. But we must take some very simple steps now to contain the spread.

Thanksgiving and the approaching December holidays are traditionally times when friends and generations of families get together. If we celebrate as usual, families gathering around a Thanksgiving table could become super-spreader events. Some of those among us – especially the elderly – are the most vulnerable to contracting serious, fatal cases of COVID-19.

If you love your family and love your friends, follow the advice of health experts.

  • ­Earlier this month, California joined other Western states in issuing a holiday travel advisory that urged residents not to travel out of state for the holiday and recommended that those who do, quarantine when they return. Stay local. Avoid nonessential out-of-state travel.
  • Indoors is riskier than outdoors. Indoor gatherings, with poor air circulation, are much worse. Wear masks!
  • Keep the duration of your gatherings short. The longer ones are riskier.
  • Keep your gatherings small. A Thanksgiving dinner with 10 people from the same household has less virus exposure than one with couples from five households.
  • Avoid transmission from other regions. Gatherings with attendees traveling from other places pose greater risks. Consider the virus’ spread in a guest’s region and your own. Discuss health concerns and possible exposure to the virus before a guest arrives.
  • Establish rules. Discuss with guests your expectations, which should include wearing masks, social distancing and NO hugging.
  • Be flexible. This virus is unpredictable. You should be willing to adjust plans for your gathering and the need to cancel it. Do not take chances.

How we celebrate Thanksgiving this year may determine how many of our family and friends are alive to celebrate the holiday with us next year.