UCF Students Plan Virtual Thanksgiving Celebrations

Junior Marketing major Julia Gardiner participates on a Zoom Thanksgiving with her family on Nov. 22. They began by sharing what they were thankful for, then caught up with each other for about an hour.

Junior marketing major Julia Gardiner looked at the faces of her family on Zoom, eating her DoorDash meal in her apartment. Due to the pandemic, Gardiner’s family chose to hold a virtual Thanksgiving celebration to reduce the risk of infecting each other.

With Thanksgiving around the corner, the CDC recommends that Americans stay home for the holiday and said “postponing travel and staying home is the best way to protect yourself and others this year” on their website. UCF Student Health Services and associated medical staff also urged students to celebrate Thanksgiving safely with COVID-19 infections at their highest number since the beginning of the pandemic, peaking at 192,673 confirmed cases on Nov. 20th.

Dr. Michael Deichen at Student Health Services stressed the continued importance of mask usage, social distancing and washing your hands regularly. 

“One of health professionals’ greatest concerns is asymptomatic people going home for the holidays and unknowingly infecting family and friends,” Deichen said. “I encourage you to self-quarantine or at least minimize the number of people with whom you come into close contact.”

In order to reduce the risk of infections over the holiday season, Vice President of Health Affairs Dr. Deborah German gave recommendations to keep all participants safe for their Thanksgiving celebrations.

“Make safety part of every celebration – including casual ones with your pals,” German said in an email. “Set up seating so people are separated. Don’t have a buffet that encourages people to gather. Have everyone bring their own boxed lunch. Have everyone wear a face covering.” 

German proposed the idea of a contest for “the most entertaining, creative or outrageous mask” and ways to keep all guests safe at Thanksgiving celebrations.

“Have everyone wear a face covering. Pull the mask down when you eat or drink something and then pull it back up. Do the same at a restaurant or bar. Have events outside," German said. "Or to be safest, have a virtual watch party."

Gardiner’s aunt hosted a Thanksgiving Zoom meeting on Nov. 22 to ensure the family could spend time together for the holidays.

“I actually had COVID in early October but it wasn’t a serious case,” Gardiner said. “My grandma lives in Massachusetts and we do one holiday as a family every year. The last time I wasn’t there was literally the day I was born, so it’s a big deal not to have it.”

Other students had more structured dinners. Senior advertising and public relations major Sara Shamlin’s family members had a Thanksgiving Zoom meeting, in which they all ate the same meal, from the turkey and stuffing to the chip dips and desserts.

“I have family in Mississippi who are going to Zoom with us as well as some family in Orlando so we can all see each other this Thanksgiving,” Shamlin said.

Circumstances and their locations scattered around the country derailed Shamlin’s family’s original plans for Thanksgiving but they made it work.

“My cousin in Mississippi is not allowed to leave the state due to being in the military, so we were originally going to Zoom with them,” Shamlin said. “Then, some family in Orlando was diagnosed with COVID and are unable to be there. They’re doing okay. Only one is showing symptoms right now.”

Zoom Thanksgiving was not the students' first choice but their families found an alternative to celebrate in a safe way.

“I’m fine with it,” Shamlin said. “I wish all our family could be together but I understand that the best thing for - not only myself - but everyone else around me is to do Thanksgiving this way.”

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