Editorial: Another COVID Thanksgiving — sigh

Travelers at an airport.
The United terminal at Los Angeles International Airport on Friday. Two million travelers are expected to pass through LAX during the two weeks around Thanksgiving.
(Al Seib / Los Angeles Times)

Remember how depressing it was in late November 2020? Even after six months of living with strict stay-at-home orders, COVID-19 still lurked unseen in every corner of the world.

The few treatments for infection were unproved or ineffective, and the terrible winter surge of infections was just beginning. Health officials pleaded with Americans to nix the traditional Thanksgiving feast with friends and family — or at the very least, to celebrate outside — and many people did just that, with the hope that doing so would ensure a future of healthy holidays.

Next year, we told ourselves while shivering through the alfresco meal with our pandemic pods, Thanksgiving will be back to normal. Big time.


It was a reasonable expectation. After all, Pfizer and BioNTech had just submitted an application to the U.S. Food and Drug Administration for emergency-use authorization for the first vaccine against COVID-19, and a second one from Moderna wasn’t far behind. Within a few weeks, healthcare workers would start getting the first of two shots, and vaccine manufacturers were ramping up production for the mass immunization campaign that would begin in early 2021. Back then, it wasn’t a stretch to imagine that by November 2021, most of the people in the U.S. would be gratefully inoculated against this dreaded disease. (If only.)

It’s understandable why so many Americans are treating this Thanksgiving as a return to normalcy — most of us are vaccinated, and new cases have been declining. About 20 million people are expected to travel by plane this week, according to the Transportation Security Administration. It’s not a record, but it’s about twice as many air passengers as last year.

But while 2021 is definitely an improvement over 2020, this pandemic is not over. We are heading into a second COVID Thanksgiving.

COVID-19 is still infecting and killing people, and cases have started rising across the nation, even as protection from vaccines received earlier this year is waning. Despite the best efforts of public health officials, less than 60% of the U.S. population has been fully vaccinated, leaving many millions unprotected. Kids under 5 can’t be vaccinated yet, and millions of older children who are eligible for a shot haven’t received one. Though they are less likely to get seriously ill than other age groups, thousands of children have been hospitalized, and hundreds have died. Things can get worse.

What this means for California is not clear. More than 91% of eligible adults in the state have had at least one shot, Gov. Gavin Newsom said Monday, and that’s probably one of the reasons the case rate here is among the lowest in the nation. But that’s not dispositive: Colorado has an overall inoculation rate similar to California’s yet is seeing a surge in new COVID-19 cases.

The pandemic will end some day; they all do. But it will not happen this week. This year, health officials aren’t telling people to hunker down at home. But they are asking that we continue to be careful, to wear masks around others and to test before visiting with vulnerable friends and family. It seems the least we can do to avoid another terrible winter.