Thanksgiving is my favorite day of the year.

It’s a holiday with none of the pressures of Christmas. I cook a lot of food and give a lot of hugs. Nothing makes me happier than our house full of the people I love.

This preamble is brought to you by a columnist who wants you and those you love to be here for next year’s Thanksgiving.

We have to cancel the family gatherings. That means no one in our houses who doesn’t live with us, unless we know — really know — that every person entering our house has not been exposed to COVID-19.

And now, a few words about the people you love:

You can’t trust them.

I’m sorry, but it’s true.

It’s not that they are deliberately misleading you. It’s just that so many people want to believe they are the exception to the rules.

The larger the gathering, the greater the risk. A growing number of infected people show no signs of having the virus, which makes them contagious without warning. And false notions of safe quarantines abound.

For example, leaving a bar at 10 p.m. rather than at midnight is not quarantining. This is true no matter when you leave a bar, and why on earth are you in one if you plan to spend Thanksgiving with loved ones? Also, our judgment may diminish after a few drinks, but our risk does not. This is equally true of dining inside a restaurant, which, right now, is too often the equivalent of twirling a fire baton while straddling an open can of gasoline.

This pandemic is at unprecedented levels in our country, and it’s growing. Both California and Texas have now reported 1 million cases of COVID-19. Recently, the U.S. set another record with 142,000 reported cases; 65,368 were hospitalized. Another record broken.

In El Paso, Texas, treatment centers have begun adding mobile morgues to keep up with the dying. Forget trying to imagine yourself in there. Think how you’d feel if someone you loved ended up in a refrigerated truck.

The New York Times reported that we’ve now had more than 10.5 million reported cases in the U.S. and more than 241,000 virus-related deaths. We hold the world record.

Since the election, President Donald Trump has been hiding out in the White House, and he has been silent about this crisis. Vice President Mike Pence, the supposed head of the White House coronavirus task force, has yet to answer any reporters’ questions since the election. He did cancel his planned vacation to Florida, we’re told.

Through all of my years as a columnist, I have tried to find signs of hope. I have never wanted to be that finger-wagging naysayer on the mountaintop, telling other people how to behave.

This is different.

I’m not telling you. I’m begging you.

Please, we must do all that we can to protect one another. Otherwise, this death toll will spiral further out of control. Someone you know will die of COVID-19. Odds are increasing that someone you love will be among them.

Earlier today, I was listening as my local NPR station aired WBUR’s interview with Dr. Emily Landon, who is the executive medical director of infection prevention and control at the University of Chicago Medicine.

This part of her interview stopped me in my tracks:

“People are having these little gatherings inside their homes. They’re doing what they were doing outside in the summertime ... having a barbecue and maybe not wearing masks while they ate but keeping apart, and it’s outside, so there’s a lot of ventilation. And they’re moving that indoors and thinking that’s going to be sufficient, and it’s just not. Our indoor ventilation systems are not capable of protecting people from COVID with just six feet of distance, unless the unmasked time period together is really short, like just a few minutes.”

Landon said these indoor gatherings are one of the primary reasons we’re seeing a sudden, dramatic spike in COVID-19 infections and deaths.

She is outraged over the Trump administration’s continued silence as the virus spreads. “I never imagined that our government would turn a blind eye to so much suffering. ... This is a huge catastrophe. The number of people dying in the United States every day is like having three or four completely full planes crash to the ground and everyone die. Can you imagine if every night’s news had three plane crashes, and it just kept happening every single day, and then it was four, and then it was five? No one would stand for that. I cannot imagine how anyone can turn a blind eye to this.”

Back to Thanksgiving.

Laurie Garrett, a Pulitzer Prize-winning author and pandemic expert, warned that this holiday could be a superspreader event. “The moment you start hugging someone you haven’t seen for weeks — yes, it’s good for your soul and for your heart, and we all long for it — but that is the moment when you are sharing a risk and a threat that wasn’t there before you had that hug.”

This is the year to focus on the gratitude part of Thanksgiving. Let’s start with the people we love. Not tolerate. Love.

Make that list, and then ask yourself, “Which of these people am I willing to lose?”

Do the right thing. I’m begging you.

Connie Schultz is a Pulitzer Prize-winning columnist and professional in residence at Kent State University’s school of journalism. She is the author of two non-fiction books, including “...and His Lovely Wife,” which chronicled the successful race of her husband, Sherrod Brown, for the U.S. Senate. She is also the author of The New York Times bestselling novel, “The Daughters of Erietown.”

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