Rettke: This Thanksgiving, I'm thankful for perspective

I didn’t grow up with grandparents. Both my grandfathers died before my parents were even married (“B.C.” for “before children”, as my dad calls it).

My maternal grandmother – Nana we called her – died when I was about 3 or 4, and my paternal grandmother not long after.

My parents, in an effort, I think, to make sure we didn’t feel ‘less loved’ (as if) in our lives gave everything: sacrificed, loved, supported. And our extended family rallied around to events, parties, holidays. I was never left wanting.

Others have far less, and I know I’m blessed as a privileged Midwesterner.

While we didn’t go to ‘Grandma’s house’ for family holidays in St. Louis, Missouri, we hosted Thanksgiving at our house, or went to my Aunt Sandy’s house for Christmas and Easter. Holidays are a big deal in my family, like many of you I’m sure, and a chance for me (who lives alone out of state) to refill my cup every year.

So I’ve been battling the blues lately bracing myself for what’s to come.

All of this to say, I know I’m not alone in this grief, anticipating a holiday season that will look significantly different this year. So many of us are in the same boat, and I take solace in that.

I hope you will, too. I’m grateful. There is still so much to be grateful for this year – and perspective is one of those things. We are here. We are alive. We are not alone.

As of Monday, there will be 45 DeKalb County families without a loved one this year. That’s 45 people who’ve lost their lives in our community due to this terrible disease, and the fear that that number could still grow, as cases continue to rise exponentially.

In the first wave, DeKalb County peaked at 327 cases in May. In September as wave two approached, we hit 522 cases, and then 1,046 in October.

And now there have been 2,061 cases reported in November alone, compared with 2,727 total cases reported in all the other months of the pandemic combined (March through October). That's according to new monthly case data released by the DeKalb County Health Department.

As gloomy as I’m feeling about virtual Thanksgiving this, I will absolutely, any day, take that over the alternative: an empty seat at next year’s family table. I’m unwilling to gamble for any miraculous outcome less than that.

I recognize that’s a personal choice, however, but here’s my pitch: Whether virtual or not, let the collective trauma that is 2020 remind us that there are more important things in life than one risk-filled day. To reprioritize. That life, sometimes, is just enough. This can’t last forever.

Because if it’s not enough, then what to do?

Well, we could shrug off all the public health and safety warnings scientists and doctors and experts have been screaming at us for the past month and gather anyway. Enjoy a nice meal together. Make every effort to social distance, wear masks, not hug.

We as a family wrestled with that question for the past month. Too many of us live in different houses, different states, with kids, working from home, working out in the world. The current surge of cases loomed like an obscene cloud, cruel and cold in its persistence, mocking us with the knowledge that some of you will still gather.

Despite the risks, you will still gather. I know how desperate we all are to see our families. I understand and I empathize.

Let’s say everyone in your family tests negative for COVID-19 prior to gathering around a table together for Thanksgiving. You don’t all live together, but you’re responsible, you’ve made every effort, you’ve crossed all the t’s in your quest for a blip of festive normalcy.

Is the worst case scenario – whatever that looks like to you, no symptoms, a few days in bed, a hospital stay, a ventilator, or, God forbid, death – really worth it?

Let’s say it’s the ‘best case’ scenario. That everyone in your family tests positive and that you all survive. (Since we know the likelihood of the actual best case scenario, no cases, is slim).

You’re still adding to the collective case count, growing the positivity rate and the kicker: the mitigations and restrictions on businesses, restaurants, schools, life will not go away.

Death and hospitalizations are not the only negative outcome of contracting the disease. Simply being another case doesn’t help our collective good.

Closures from case surges continue to hurt our local economy, local jobs, local lives. And with that comes loss of jobs, money, income. It's not just about deaths or hospitalizations (which are scary and expensive and lonely), it's about case count.

So, with that in mind, here are a few reminders from our public health officials ahead of Thanksgiving:

If you tested negative for COVID-19 this week thinking you'd be able to quarantine as close to Thanksgiving as possible, that is not enough. As we've heard many times: You can't test yourself out of quarantine.

If, despite all of this, you still decide to gather as a family for Thanksgiving and then want to get yourself tested after to make sure it's OK, wait a few days before doing that. Lisa Gonzalez, public health administrator at the DeKalb County Health Department said the recommendation is five to seven days after possible point of exposure (i.e. a family gathering with those who you don't live with) before testing, in the off chance you could test negative before the virus develops in your body.

If you test positive, don’t go anywhere. Quarantine yourself for 14 days, or if your symptoms persist beyond that, further.

I know it’s hard. But I hope you have a safe, happy and healthy Thanksgiving. I hope it brings you joy in whatever way you need most.