Every November, Sammi Jones excitedly awaits the day she and her family are able to pack up the car drive to her mom’s in Monroe, Wis.

It’s one of the only times of the year her kids are able to see their cousins, and she is able to be with her mom and grandma. But this year, those annual plans won’t pan out.

“It will be the first holiday we haven’t had anything planned,” Jones said.


Her family will stay in Dubuque this year, rather than travel and put either her extended family or clients at Hales & Dales at risk of exposure to COVID-19.

“I am really really close with my grandma, and I haven’t seen her since June,” she said. “Normally, we don’t go this long without seeing each other. I think it will definitely be different because my kids are used to going there for family holidays and playing with their cousins. The only time I haven’t been able to celebrate with them is once we went to Texas to be with my husband’s family.”

Jones said she hopes she will be able to video chat with her mom that day but will be working at Hales & Dales the day after Thanksgiving.

“I work with people that could have compromised immune systems, and I don’t want to put them or myself at risk,” she said. “The people are still there whether it’s a holiday or not.”

To stem the spread of the virus, many health experts are advising families stay home this year and surround themselves with only immediate family they come in contact with every day.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, the risk for exposure or spreading the virus is heightened during medium-sized gatherings even with social distance. But for most Thanksgiving meals, that is not possible. The CDC considers large gatherings where people travel from outside the area and cannot be spaced least 6 feet apart to be the highest risk for spreading COVID-19.

Like the Jones family, others are taking these recommendations and guidance from health officials into account to rearrange usual plans this Thanksgiving. Rather than continuing their usual tradition of driving to Bellevue, Neb., for an eclectic gathering, Stephanie Kumor and her family will be staying in Dubuque.

“My husband is one of seven kids, and every year, his family does a huge get together at Thanksgiving,” she said. “His father rents out a gym, and the family gathers for the day. It has grown over the years to be an event that people bring friends to that have nowhere else to go. Last year, there were over 70 people in attendance.”

Kumor said her husband, Ben, is a physician at Grand River Medical Group, and he usually needs to request time off work months in advance. This year, he will have an entire week off, but they will have nowhere to go.

Kumor said her family lives in Chicago, so they will not be able to see them either, but they will plan to FaceTime with them to stay connected that way. It will be their first Thanksgiving at home, and her first attempt at making a turkey.

“It’s a huge disappointment to my own seven kids who were excited to see cousins and grandparents,” she said. “We’ve been married for almost 17 years, and I’ve never had to make a turkey, so this will be interesting to say the least.”

Erica Leavell and her husband, Rob, rotate between going to see her family in Cleveland, Ohio, and his family in Waterloo, Iowa, for the holidays every year. But this year, neither plans are feasible.

“I feel like the writing has been on the wall for awhile,” Leavell said. “It wasn’t a difficult decision to make because we knew it was the right decision to make. The hard thing is we know it will be a really really long time before we get to see my family.”

This year she and her husband will cook dinner at home with their 2-year-old daughter Eleanor and their dogs, Leavell said.

“We FaceTime (my family) every Sunday, so we will just make sure to be really intentional about doing something as a family this year,” she said. “It’s going to be very weird. Family and holidays are really important for us, so it’s going to be difficult.”