Thanksgiving 2020–Picking Through The Bones Of A Turkey Of A Holiday To Find Positives

As Thanksgivings go, Thanksgiving 2020 will undoubtedly go down in the books as a real turkey. How enjoyable is it to celebrate a holiday when we are told to stay home and stay away from everyone except immediate household members? The pandemic has cast a pall on the entire year, and now it is robbing us of traditional celebrations. But if we pick through the bones of this turkey of a holiday this year, positives can be identified. Yes, really!

Let’s Talk Turkey

Thanksgiving and turkey go together like peanut butter and jelly. It is hard to imagine one without the other. While we may not have Grandma, Uncle Horace, cousin Betty, and the rest of the clan around the Thanksgiving table, mercifully, we can still have a turkey gracing it.

About 40 million turkeys are eaten each Thanksgiving according to the National Turkey Federation. While TP has at times been scarce during 2020, there are no turkey shortages across the board. So, if you want to gobble down some turkey for Thanksgiving, you will not be disappointed.

That having been said, however, there is a challenge facing Americans. Consumers are facing a harder time finding smaller turkeys to serve for their big holiday meal. Kroger found that 43% of its shoppers planned to celebrate Thanksgiving with only those in their immediate household. Thus, there’s no need for a ginormous turkey to fill the special turkey platter. The pandemic has driven up the demand for smaller turkeys.

This shift in demand is good news for male turkeys who are also known as Toms. Most large turkeys (defined as more than 16 pounds) are male. Most small turkeys are female and are called hens. Preparing smaller turkeys is thus going to result in a hen party this Thanksgiving.

We Gather Together

The Centers for Disease Control, familiarly known as CDC, has recommended people not travel for Thanksgiving due to the pandemic. So gathering together with kith and kin who do not live in the local area is pumpkin pie in the sky for those who adhere to this advice. CDC is such a party pooper! Right now that acronym seems to stand for Cancelling Desired Celebration.

Despite the ban on in person gatherings, people can still gather together–just not in the traditional Thanksgiving way. Using technology, relatives and friends may share a meal albeit virtually. In the past? TV dinners. Now? Zoom dinners.

Gathering together is such an integral part of celebrating Thanksgiving that the hymn most associated with Thanksgiving is “We Gather Together.” But the back story of this hymn provides a better understanding of something else which Americans can be thankful for despite an ongoing pandemic.

The hymn, of Dutch origin, was written in 1597 and its words were set to the music of a well known folk tune. The song had nothing to do with a holiday. It celebrated the Dutch victory over the Spanish at the Battle of Turnhout. The Protestant Dutch were fighting a war of liberation against Spain’s Catholic king who forbade them to assemble for worship. The king basically told them, “Don’t Gather Together!” To stick it to the king, then, the victorious Dutch thus gleefully sang “We Gather Together.” Well at least they sang that idea in their native language.

Although the pandemic may have altered the look of church services with congregants wearing masks and socially distancing, Americans of faith can still be thankful this Thanksgiving. There is no government prohibition against assembling to worship as one sees fit. We can gather with those of like faith whenever we choose–Thanksgiving or any other day of the year.

Pilgrim’s Pride

After a turkey, the Pilgrims are the probably the most familiar thing about an American Thanksgiving. In fact, the holiday is based on what the Pilgrims did hundreds of years ago. Even though the pandemic has radically changed how the holiday will be celebrated this year, everyone can be thankful that a modern celebration looks nothing like the one the Pilgrims observed.

Sure the pandemic has caused an ever mounting and ghastly death toll in 2020. But the Pilgrims had it way worse. The 53 Pilgrims who celebrated the first Thanksgiving had survived the long journey on the Mayflower and the first winter in the new world. Disease and starvation struck down HALF (that’s 50% for those of you who are mathematically challenged) of the original 102 colonists. Thankfully COVID-19 is nowhere near decimating half of this country’s population.

If Americans have to scale back their celebrations, they will surely have an easier time than the Pilgrims did. Their celebration lasted for three days, and there were no paper plates, refrigerators, and microwaves back then. Sounds like lots of work for the Pilgrim womenfolk–who are believed to have only been four in number by then.

The Pilgrims’ guest list was rather lengthy as well. Ninety Wampanoag Indians from a nearby village gathered with them. That puts having 20 family members over for Thanksgiving dinner in perspective, huh? But the Indians were well-mannered guests and brought a hostess gift–5 freshly killed deer. I guess it is the thought that counts because such a gift would make me lose my appetite for a big holiday meal.

We, of course, could use the Pilgrims as inspiration for adhering to CDC guidelines this year. An outdoor meal is suggested. Turkey, but not deer, al fresco it is! See? There really are some positives to be found in this turkey of a Thanksgiving 2020.

Just WONDER-ing:

Will you be abiding by CDC guidelines for observing Thanksgiving? If so, how? What positives can you find in this surreal Thanksgiving 2020? Have you ever stopped to think about the details of the first Thanksgiving celebrated by the Pilgrims?

In A Daze Over School Days–COVID-19 And School Re-Openings

To re-open or not to re-open schools; that is the current question. Sure school will start back this fall; however, no one is certain the form that start will take. Even if students return to traditional brick and mortar schoolhouses, their experience will not be anything which could be characterized as a return to pre-pandemic normal. There will be a new school normal in the schoolhouse, and pupils of all ages aren’t going to like it.

An education encompasses many facets. The experience includes not only classroom time, but time in the lunchroom, at P.E., in the hallways, and on the school bus. In fact, for many students, their school activities outside the classroom are their favorite parts of the day. Classroom or not, no school area will escape transformation in the new normal. What will the new normal look like?

To assist administrators and school boards in planning for school re-openings, the Centers For Disease Control (“CDC”)  issued guidelines in May. The “lowest risk” option was identified as virtual-only classes activities, and events. Maybe I’m not as creative as CDC scientists, but how are you going to have a virtual-only high school football game with no fans, no players, no coaches, no bands, etc.? The only answer my non-scientific brain can produce is “You can’t.”

Let’s assume a school board decides to take a risk and rejects the virtual-only school option. What’s the best way to have school in a school building? CDC provides “considerations” to protect students, teachers, administrators, and staff by slowing the spread of COVID-19. Note that CDC apparently concedes the spread cannot be prevented, just slowed. If parents think it will be totally safe to send little Johnny back to school if the guidelines are followed, they are living in la la land–and I don’t mean Los Angeles or Lower Alabama.

So what’s a school to do to protect those within the little red schoolhouse? Let’s consider the steps which must be taken and how this will affect the students’ school experience.

The Classroom

Modified layouts of classrooms will be necessary. Per the CDC guidelines, desks must be spaced “at least”  six feet apart. Forget buying your child a ruler as a school supply. A yardstick will be more practical. Desks should also face all the same direction, so there will be no circling of desks as the wagons are circled to protect against the spread of COVID-19. If table seating is utilized, students would sit on only one side of the table. That’ll have to be one long table to get more than one student at a table, just sayin’. 

For younger students receiving marks for conduct, this new normal will be their new “friend.” With desks spaced a minimum of six feet apart, it will be difficult to carry on whispered conversations during lessons. At that distance, a student would have to shout to be heard. Forget the old-fashioned “Psst!” or a tap on the shoulder of the student sitting in front of you. The time-honored tradition of passing notes will also become a thing of the past. Who can reach six feet to surreptitiously hand one over?

For older students, changing classes will be a thing of the past. CDC advises “cohorting,” organizing students and staff into small groups that remain together during the school day. At most changing classes might mean merely changing teachers. Rather than have umpteen kids mingle with different students the next period, the students could stay in place and their teachers will play musical classrooms. So much for students looking forward to seeing the cute guy or gal in biology class; they are stuck with playing the field with the same class of students all day long. Romance is doomed.

The Lunchroom

Lunchroom? What lunchroom? CDC recommends closing communal spaces such as cafeterias or dining halls. Individual meals would be served and eaten in the classroom.

Say what? Students live for lunch period. No, it isn’t the mystery meat they can’t wait for—it is a break from classroom lessons and prohibitions on their talking. Lunch is the time for socializing! But how much socializing will occur with students eating a minimum of six feet apart?                                                                                                                                                                 

Trading lunch fare will be a fond memory. Good luck seeing what your friend Timmy’s mother packed for him. Even if you can pick out a delicious homemade brownie from more than six feet away, how will you be able to trade your carrot sticks for it? Throwing the food item to be traded is the only option—and one frowned upon by school staff.

The Playground

A fate similar to the cafeteria awaits the playground. It is a communal area which CDC would have closed.

Approved activities for P.E. will be a short list. Tag? No, you must stay six feet apart and cannot touch anyone. That’s boring. Red Rover? It’ll be a breeze for someone to come right over because there will be no hand-holding line of defense to break through. Dodge ball? You could stay six feet apart while playing, but it isn’t sanitary for the thrown ball to touch anyone else and possibly spread COVID-19. Guess everyone will end up running laps around the field—six feet apart of course. What fun!

The Hallways

Time spent in the hallways will be more limited because having a mass of humanity walking in a crowded narrow space is a social distancing nightmare. Hallway lockers are way too close together, so using them is out. Who’s up for carrying their sweaty P.E. clothes with them all day? Good thing everyone will have to  wear a face mask; it can filter out some of the stink.

PDA will be DOA. Couples will not be able to hold hands, hug, or kiss in the hallways—well, unless they can do it from six feet plus apart. Blowing kisses it is. Or not. The virus is supposedly spread via respiratory droplets.

The Bus

Transporting students to and from school via school bus will be a logistical challenge since the requisite 6 foot + social distancing must be kept. Two to a seat won’t fly, and there’ll be no standing in the aisles when a student could “accidentally” bump into someone on whom he had his eye.

The same number of students cannot be packed in as they were pre-pandemic. A bus which previously accommodated 65-77 students now could seat only 9-11, requiring multiple trips to transport all the students to and from school. Sanitizing buses after each trip means increased transportation time. The school day would be almost over by the time all the students arrived. The school board for Duval County, Florida has astutely recognized that implementing these guidelines is “impossible.”

Schools re-opening will be a welcome return to routine activity. The new normal in which this activity would be conducted, however, will be less welcome. Pre-pandemic school is out forever.

Just WONDER-ing:

If you have school-age children, will you send them to school if you have the option of virtual classes? How safe do you think it is to send kids back to school even if the CDC guidelines are followed? Is implementing any or all of the CDC recommendations feasible? 

Coronavirus Consequences — School’s Out But Testing’s In

School is, or shortly will be, out for the summer. Who cares? It’s really been out for some time with pupils stuck at home trying to adapt to distance learning. Even if school is out, testing is very much in. Coronavirus testing that is. Let’s study for this testing, shall we?

According to the Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”), there are two kinds of tests for COVID-19. These aren’t true/false or essay tests. These tests involve needles and long swabs, not pencils. Ouch! A viral test tells if you have a current coronavirus infection. An antibody test indicates if you have had a previous infection.

Failing the viral test is cause for celebration. A negative result establishes that you weren’t infected at the time your sample was collected. But don’t party too hard. This result doesn’t mean you won’t get sick later. 

Since the coronavirus is a respiratory illness, viral tests check samples from your respiratory system to tell if you are infected with SARS-CoV-2, the virus that causes COVID-19. A swab of the inside of your nose may be done. This swab is not a small Q-tip like you may have in your bathroom. Oh, no. The nasopharyngeal swab used is a special SIX-INCH (that’s half a foot!) cotton swab. This torture device–er, swab–is placed up both sides of your nose and moved around for about 15 seconds. WebMD advises that this procedure won’t hurt, but it “might be uncomfortable.” Ya think?

Even when test results are obtained, your status could still be unclear, Test results can be wrong; while a positive is a positive, per CDC, there can be false negatives. If you test positive, the good news is that there is certainty as to your medical status. The bad news is that we are positive you have the dread COVID-19. If you test negative, you may or may not have COVID-19. Early on in the disease there may not be a lot of virus present. The good news is you don’t have much virus in your body–yet anyway. 

The antibody test is used to detect the presence of antibodies and is a serological test. Blood must be drawn meaning a needle is involved. Ouch!

Why look for antibodies? They are the proteins your body uses to help fight off infections. Their presence indicates a past infection. Unfortunately, it is not clear if antibodies provide immunity against getting infected again. Based on a recent news story, I’m guessing the answer is no. A handful of sailors on the coronavirus-ravaged USS Theodore Roosevelt have tested positive for the virus for the second time. Uh oh!

Concerns with the reliability of antibody test results exist as well. Reportedly 40% of rapid antigen tests miss positive patients. That’s 4 out of 10 people getting an inaccurate test result. Oops! While .600 is a great batting average, a 60% medical test accuracy rate is a poor score.

The viral and antibody tests aim for different information. Viral tests indicate what is currently going on in your body. Do you have the infection? Antigen tests indicate what has happened in the past in your body. Have you previously had the infection? It can take 1-3 weeks after an infection for your body to make antibodies, so the antibody test may not be able to show if you have a current infection. 

Tests can be further broken down as to how results are obtained. Point of care tests allow results to be obtained at the testing site in less than an hour. Other tests must be sent to a lab to be analyzed, a process that could take 1-2 days once received by the lab. Regardless of how long it takes to get results, the waiting will be stressful.

Testing does not have to be done at a medical facility. You can be tested from the convenience of your car with drive through testing. I don’t know about you, but if I’m getting “take out” from a drive through, I want to be receiving a burger and fries, not supplying my mucus or saliva.

If being in your car is not convenient enough, another testing site option exists. DIY testing is available from the “comfort” of your home. Emergency Use Authorization (EUA) has been given to home collection kits produced by LabCorp. FDA has approved two types of viral test kits which allow you to collect a nasal swab or a saliva sample at home. Saliva is a common medium for virus transmission–no spit!

If you feel compelled to test yourself at home, make sure you do your homework before taking the test. Find out if the test you are using is an authorized one. All tests which have been given Emergency Use Authorization are listed on the FDA’s website. 

Whether in school or out, all of us face tests. The pandemic has provided ample opportunities for testing. Patience has been tested with drawn out lock downs and shortages of TP and cleaning products, financial situations have been tested by economic adversity, and bodies have been tested for the coronavirus or antibodies produced in reaction to it. While you can’t study for a viral or antigen test, you can learn about them. Being informed is a TESTament to one’s desire to be prepared for whatever life throws at you. Let’s just hope that it isn’t the coronavirus.

Just WONDER-ing:

Have you taken either a viral test or antigen test during the pandemic? Which would bother you more–have a needle stuck in your arm or having a 6-inch swab stuck up your nose? Is a 60% test accuracy rate acceptable? Would you be more likely to rely on a home test or one conducted by a medical professional?



Not So Happy Chinese New Year Thanks To Coronavirus

On January 25, 2020, millions of Chinese probably exclaimed, “Rats!” and not  because Chinese New Year ushered in the Year of the Rat. A pall was cast over China’s biggest holiday due to a public health scare. China is facing an outbreak of a new coronavirus, 2019 Novel Coronavirus–officially dubbed 2019-nCOV. The Chinese animal of the year is apropos since rats are symbolic of the drive to survive in times of danger.

The emergence of this virus is scary because it is one that hasn’t been previously identified–hence the name “Novel” Coronavirus. Because it is new, no vaccine exists to protect against the virus. And it will take a substantial amount of time (think months) to develop one. For modern society wanting instant fixes, that amount of time is hard to swallow.

The ultimate source of this new virus is as yet undetermined. Nevertheless, it has nothing to do with Corona beer despite a surge in Internet searches for “beer virus.” The virus’ name stems from the crown-like spikes on its surface.

Many of the initial Chinese patients who fell ill had been to Huanan, a large seafood and animal market in Wuhan. The connection to the now closed market suggested an animal source for the virus. Could it have been a rat?? The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (“CDC”) believes this coronavirus first emerged from animal to people, but it is now being transmitted person to person.

Animals played a part in past coronavius health scares  because coronaviruses are zoonotic, i.e., they are transmitted between animals and people. Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome {“SARS”), first recognized in 2002 also in China,.was traced back to civit cats. A less well known coronavirus outbreak of Middle East Respiratory Syndrome (“MERS”), was first reported in Saudi Arabia in 2012. Point the finger of blame at camels for MERS.

The growing spread of 2019-nCOV greatly concerns health and governmental officials. The outbreak erupted in Wuhan, Hubei Province, China, a megacity of 11 million people in east central China. In addition to cases in China, 2019-nCOV has now been reported in Nepal, Vietnam, Cambodia, Taiwan, Hong Kong, Thailand, Macao, Japan, Singapore, South Korea, Malaysia, Australia, Canada, the United States, Germany, and France. Yesterday, China; tomorrow, the world.

The first U.S. 2019-nCOV case was announced January 21st. To date five cases have been confirmed by CDC, currently the only entity in the country that can diagnose it. All five patients had recently returned from–you guessed it!–Wuhan. Accordingly health screenings of incoming travelers on direct and connecting flights from Wuhan have been implemented at five major airports: San Francisco, Los Angeles, Chicago, Atlanta, and New York (JFK). Outgoing travelers shouldn’t feel left out. CDC has issued a travel health notice recommending all nonessential travel to Hubei Province, China be avoided. (Well, duh!) The U.S. State Department has issued a similar warning. (Copycats!) So concerned were U.S. government officials for Americans still in Wuhan, that they chartered a Boeing 767 to evacuate U.S. citizens and diplomats.

Those remaining in Wuhan and surrounding areas are basically on lock down. On January 22nd, the Chinese government cut off trains, planes, and other links to Wuhan, a severe measure for the busy New Year travel time. The lock down was steadily expanded to surrounding cities and now affects over 50 million people. Two makeshift hospitals solely for coronavirus patients are being erected. Completion of the first hospital, to have 1,000 beds, was to be accomplished by February 3rd, i.e., in SIX days.

To avoid spread of the virus, New Year celebrations were cancelled in China and other countries. But it isn’t just New Year celebrations which have been impacted by the health threat. China’s economy has taken a big hit due to cancelled trips during their busiest travel time. In Hong Kong, schools have been ordered closed until February 17th. Likewise, Hong Kong Disneyworld is closed. Apparently Disney might make your dreams come true, but it can’t protect you from the nightmare of falling victim to a dread virus.

Chinese President Xi Jinping characterized the virus’ increasing spread as a “grave” situation. With over 100 deaths so far, the grave is the outcome for some patients. Worldwide cases now exceed 4,500, so the death toll will undoubtedly rise.

To control the spread of the virus, medical experts must determine how it is transmitted. They think the virus probably spreads through tiny droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. As a result, demand for face masks for protection has skyrocketed. The incubation period for the coronavirus is 1 to 14 days, and it’s infectious during that time. So, it can be spread by someone prior to their exhibiting symptoms and knowing they have it. Forget being a poet and not knowing it, you can be a coronavirus carrier and not know it.

What if you do get 2019-nCOV? The virus causes respiratory infections and symptoms similar to the common cold. Patients with the virus experience fever, coughing, and breathing problems such as wheezing and pneumonia. At the least, having the virus is uncomfortable; at the worst, it can be fatal.

Should Americans be concerned? Some public health experts are saying  reaction to the current situation is “hysteria and panic.” They point out that, at its current rate, 2019-nCOV is less deadly than this year’s U.S. flu season. Does this mean Americans should panic about the flu season instead?

While I’m not a doctor or public health expert, I do possess common sense and would encourage people everywhere to utilize theirs. Don’t travel to Hubei Province right now. Avoid situations where you might come in contact with people who have recently traveled there. If advised by your medical professional to get a flu shot, for heaven’s sake get one. Take into account the risk of exposure when in large public gatherings including, but not limited to, Chinese New Year celebrations. Consider wearing a face mask when out in public. You may not look smashing wearing that mask, but if it protects you from a possibly fatal illness, who really cares? Be like a rat in the Year of the Rat. Do what it takes to survive!

Just WONDER-ing:

Were you aware how widespread 2019-nCOV cases are? Are you alarmed about the situation? Should you be more concerned about catching the flu or 2019-nCOV?