Historically, Thanksgiving celebrates the generosity and assistance Native American tribes provided to English colonists from the Mayflower. The colonists’ fall feast represented gratitude for help without which most would likely have died.

Almost exactly 400 years later, our country finds itself in a parallel circumstance.

Health care workers have spent every day since early March demonstrating remarkable generosity, assistance and selflessness. By and large Americans have voiced their thanks and support.

Mario Nicolais

Yet as the holiday season approaches, it is time to do more than thank those workers. It is time to recognize their sacrifice with some of our own, starting with smaller Thanksgiving celebrations and limited holiday travel.

Large gatherings pose a significant risk of spreading COVID-19, even among family members. That is particularly true when family or friends have recently traveled to attend.

With cases spiking across Colorado and the nation, the best way to thank health care workers is to avoid overwhelming them with an influx of Thanksgiving-driven cases.

Last spring we all became accustomed to the graphical representation of “Flattening the Curve” – two curves, one steep and narrow, the other flat and wide. The first, narrow curve represents how the COVID-19 pandemic would spread without protective measures such as masks and social distancing; the second shows the hopeful outcome if those measures were implemented. 

The constant always remained the dotted health care system capacity line running horizontally across the graph. But now that line is dropping in Colorado and across the country.

Just as the rest of the population shows increased rates of infection, so do medical personnel. Doctors, nurses, administrators and staff have been reporting ill in record numbers. Consequently, even as hospitalization rates climb, the number of people who can provide care is plummeting.

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Creating additional hospital beds will do little to help sick patients if health care workers aren’t available to staff them.  

The problem has become so dire in North Dakota that their governor recently announced that COVID-19 positive health care professionals would be allowed to continue working in units dedicated to pandemic patients. 

Colorado could be on the way to similar measures.

It is against that backdrop that sacrifices to our Turkey Day traditions should be measured. While the importance of spending time with loved ones is not lost on me – my family remains thankful for the blessing we had to spend last Thanksgiving with someone we lost during the pandemic – it should not come at high risk to their health. And it should not come at the cost of over-filled, under-staffed intensive care units.

Instead we would all be better off, as individual families and a community as a whole, making changes to our traditions for at least one year. But that doesn’t mean losing out on the connections at the heart of the holiday.

For example, while I usually host a large dinner with extended family, this year will likely be only me, my wife and potentially her mother and my father. Neither would have come if my step-daughter had traveled back from Idaho or my brother from Boston.

However, I am sure that we will spend plenty of time on telephone and Zoom calls with both this coming Thursday. They will still be a part of our Thanksgiving, if not in person this year so that they may be next year.

We hope those precautions will keep each of us healthy. We hope that our little sacrifice will also bring a little respite for a health care team that may otherwise need to care for us. And we hope that if enough other families do the same, we can help keep the curve flat enough to remain below a sinking health care capacity line.

In the most abnormal year in memory, Thanksgiving will not be any different. But if we sow the seeds of health this year, hopefully we will be as fortunate as the pilgrims to share a much larger feast next year.

Mario Nicolais is an attorney and columnist who writes on law enforcement, the legal system, health care and public policy. Follow him on Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq

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Special to The Colorado Sun Twitter: @MarioNicolaiEsq