• U.S. coronavirus infections are increasing by tens of thousands a day and the death toll is nearing 220,000
  • Dr. Anthony Fauci says Americans should "bite the bullet" and cancel this year's gatherings
  • Mental health experts warn being deprived of Thanksgiving gatherings could increase feelings of loneliness and isolation

Last Thanksgiving people worried about how to prevent political blow-ups around the dinner table and whether the surly uncle would behave. In 2020, they’re worrying about whether to put on a Thanksgiving dinner at all with coronavirus cases increasing across the country.

Thanksgiving is Americans’ second favorite holiday behind Christmas. Unlike Christmas and Easter, there are no religious overtones. Unlike Memorial Day, the Fourth of July and Labor Day, it’s not associated with politics.

But this year, fears of infecting loved ones has would-be hosts worrying about what to do.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention warns the more people who are invited, the greater the risk of spreading the disease that has killed about 220,000 Americans since March – especially if those gatherings are held indoors. Infections have been rising by the tens of thousands a day.

Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, says people should just cancel the annual celebration.

"You may have to bite the bullet and sacrifice that social gathering, unless you're pretty certain that the people that you're dealing with are not infected,” he said in a CBS interview.

Taking that step, however, likely will be hard on a lot of people, psychologist Souzan Swift of Heal telemedicine practice told International Business Times.

“Family and friends look forward to coming together to celebrate so now that we are unable to do so, it’s going to leave a lot of people feeling more isolated and lonely,” Swift said. “It’s not just about the holiday but about coming together, socializing, connecting with our loved ones, and overall self-care. Having to cancel our plans and/or traditions takes a lot of that away and we are left feeling lonely and disconnected from the world we knew.”

Addiction Treatment Services at Phoenix Behavioral Health recommends hosting virtual events if in-person gatherings are off the table.

“Those who may have a mental health disorder will be able to maintain the connections they crave while also lowering their risk of contracting COVID-19,” said Olivia Feldman, project manager at Addiction Treatment Services, citing the increased danger of turning to drugs or alcohol to assuage the isolation and loneliness.

Swift said canceling Thanksgiving, and potentially other winter holidays, may leave people feeling discouraged and defeated. Adjusting to a “new normal” is tough, she said.

“Unfortunately, the merriment we crave — eating, drinking and singing together in a cozy room — are among the highest-risk scenarios for transmitting COVID-19,” M. Kit Delgado, an assistant professor of emergency medicine and epidemiology at the University of Pennsylvania, told MarketWatch.

In his CBS interview, Fauci noted his children had canceled his family gathering “because of their concern for me and my age … even though all three of them want very much to come home for Thanksgiving.”