Socially Distanced Thanksgiving Portrait 01

Linda Allen, a Mount Vernon resident who is spending Thanksgiving alone due to rising COVID-19 cases, poses for a portrait Friday on her back porch with Phoebe, an 8-year-old miniature labradoodle. Allen plans on video-calling family on the holiday to stay in touch.

For Linda Allen of Mount Vernon, Thanksgiving means seeing her six grandchildren, baking with her three daughters, and cooking two turkeys — one in the oven, and one smoked outside on the grill.

This year, Allen and her family will be celebrating Thanksgiving in their individual homes.

The family made the decision several weeks ago to cancel an in-person gathering after watching the rapid rise in COVID-19 cases.

Allen said she worries about those without symptoms spreading the virus.

“It’s scary,” she said. “It’s such an invisible thing.”

As is the case for many families, the decision to cancel a tradition was not easy.

“I’m not happy about it, but I agree it’s the right thing to do,” she said.

For Allen, who has lived alone since her husband died five years ago, not seeing family is particularly painful.

She sympathizes with others in the same boat.

“I just have a feeling of — maybe the word is grief, or grieving — for everyone (who) cannot connect or gather with their families,” Allen said.

She said she plans to video-call family members and exchange food with neighbors.

For weeks, public health officials have pleaded with families to avoid indoor gatherings — where the risk of spreading the virus is the greatest. On Sunday, Gov. Jay Inslee announced a ban on gathering indoors with non-household members in an effort to slow the rapid spread of the virus.

Outdoor gatherings are limited to five people outside one’s household.

Tami Whiton of Burlington also decided to forgo a big Thanksgiving gathering after watching case numbers rise.

There were plans to hold a smaller gathering with just immediate family, but even that seemed too risky.

“All my friends, and the family, they’re all being extra extra cautious,” Whiton said. “Now we’re more inside, and it’s the regular flu season, and people are getting sicker.”

For Whiton, a minimum of 17 people usually attend her Thanksgiving dinner, and last year’s meal required two big tables in a great room and a table in the garage.

“I’m very disappointed,” she said. “It’s the first time ever (we had to cancel). But to us, it’s more important that we’re here next year and all of (our guests) are here next year.”

The virus will likely force cancellation of December gatherings, such as the Whiton family’s traditional Croatian cookie-making party and gift exchange.

While many have canceled Thanksgiving gatherings, some are choosing to proceed with caution with small groups.

Debbie Aldridge of Anacortes usually spends Thanksgiving at her sister’s house in Snohomish with extended family.

This year, she plans to eat dinner with her 80-year-old mother, who lives in Mill Creek, while other family members meet in separate “pods.”

Her sister and her husband will be a second pod, and her son and his girlfriend in Bellingham a third.

Out-of-town family are not visiting, and Aldridge’s daughter, who recently started working in the Bahamas, is not flying home.

Of the family within the state, Aldridge said the goal was to ensure no one was alone on Thanksgiving.

“I feel like my house is the safest place (my mother) can be without being stuck at home,” she said.

She said while she knows there is a risk in seeing her mother, the risk is small. Being retired, she doesn’t go to work, and she has kept her social circle small.

Aldridge said she is not planning on getting tested before Thanksgiving due to the possibility of getting exposed to the virus after the test.

The state Department of Health is urging people to not seek screening tests in order to attend Thanksgiving celebrations, due to the rising demand for COVID-19 testing.

Aldridge said it’s a difficult time for everyone and that many are questioning their decisions.

“We all feel like we’ve lost something no matter which way you’re doing it,” she said. “I think we’re all a little like ‘Is this the right way? Does this make sense?’”

— Reporter Jacqueline Allison: jallison@skagitpublishing.com, 360-416-2145, Twitter: @Jacqueline_SVH

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