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This Thanksgiving: A plea for Plan B

Donald Garcia clears off his truck in Northeast Albuquerque last Thanksgiving after an early snowstorm blanketed the city. (Jim Thompson/Albuquerque Journal)

ALBUQUERQUE, N.M. — It snowed last Thanksgiving, the surprisingly sloppy storm preventing many New Mexicans from gathering together to give thanks with family and friends and far too much food.

Rollovers and crashes were so plentiful on slippery city streets and snowy mountain roads that day that law officers were told to respond only to the most serious ones.

Readers told me about how the storm had forced them to resort to their Plan B’s. One made do with beef fajitas when his flight home was canceled. Another tearfully told her daughter, son-in-law and their new baby not to chance the trip from Santa Fe and instead come by for leftovers once the storm passed and the way was clear.

At my house, two turkeys, several pounds of mashed potatoes, my grandmother’s famous dressing and a kettle of homemade red chile sauce were among the delectables prepared for a party of 17 until weather whittled the guest list down to the four of us who live here.

We had leftovers for days.

“Not as many people at the table this year, but we will eat, drink, be merry and thankful for surviving another eventful year and for our friends and family near and far,” I wrote then.

That year, friends and family felt far away. This year, they feel farther yet, as they have for eight months since COVID-19 blew in like a blinding storm.

Since Monday, New Mexico has been under another lockdown, forced upon us because the virus is spreading out of control, hospitals are at near capacity, health workers are overextended, too many lives are being lost and too many of us are refusing to do our part by wearing masks, staying home and staying away from social gatherings.

Despite the science, despite pleas from exhausted health workers, despite too many obituaries and empty chairs at kitchen tables, there are still too many of us who believe the pandemic is a hoax or a liberal plot or a violation of civil rights or not as bad as the media portrays.

As a result, those who have demanded the freedom to live their lives mask-less and en masse have forced us all to lose more of our freedom – or our lives and livelihoods.

Under the amended emergency public health order many non-essential businesses are again closed and dining on-site is again forbidden. We are back to curbside dining, waiting in long lines at big box stores and worshiping at arms’ length and in fewer numbers.

New Mexico’s shutdown order is among the most aggressive nationwide amid the recent coronavirus surge, as my colleagues reported. But we are not alone. Other governors and mayors from California to New Jersey are also being forced to make draconian decisions to stem the spread (again) of COVID-19.

Even Mexico is locking down. A reader writes that “restriction crybabies” should consider Ciudad Juárez, where orders are at Semáforo Rojo, or red light, level, the most severe.

There, face masks are mandatory in public, hosting a good time can lead to jail time, no more than two people are allowed in a vehicle, alcohol sales are limited and public activities are banned from 10 p.m. to 6 a.m.

“The police will stop you if you’re out then,” she wrote. “You can only buy liquor on Monday, Tuesday, Wednesday because they don’t want people to stock up for weekend parties.”

Even Mexico’s traditional Día de los Muertos celebrations earlier this month were largely curtailed by limiting entry to cemeteries.

“I was just surprised how Mexico is doing such a better job than we are,” she wrote. “So many here want to go to a gym or eat in a restaurant than to stay alive.”

Mexico, it should be noted, is not doing as badly as the United States, which continues to lead the world in the total number of COVID-19 infections and deaths, according to the Johns Hopkins University. Think of that.

And now we are a week away from Thanksgiving. I wonder how many of us will forego the feast and stay away from those we love – because we love them enough to keep them safe.

Under the amended order, mass gatherings are prohibited – “mass” being more than five, unless they are folks you are already locked down with. Such social gatherings, especially now that they are held mostly indoors, are major contributors to the spread of this awful virus. They are what keep some businesses closed and the economy teetering on catastrophe. They are what keep our hospital beds full. They are what could lead to far too many funerals by Christmas.

It’s not easy, I know. We love our traditions. We love our people.

But last Thanksgiving when the snow fell, we stayed home, made do and resorted to our Plan Bs. And we survived.

So this Thanksgiving let us look forward to next Thanksgiving, to the hope of effective vaccines on the horizon, to brighter days together once the storm passes and the way is clear.

UpFront is a front-page news and opinion column.

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