Virtual for the Holidays: Tri-Cities families host ‘Zoomsgiving’ amid COVID-19 surge


JOHNSON CITY, Tenn. (WJHL) – Phones might be allowed at the table this Thanksgiving, as many families change their annual holiday gatherings to virtual ones.

Thanksgiving traditions are falling by the wayside due to the COVID-19 pandemic.

News Channel 11’s Pheben Kassahun spoke to people in the Tri-Cities who are staying home and having a “Zoomsgiving” instead.

Health officials have continuously said the best recipe for a COVID-19 Thanksgiving is sitting in a room with your extended family; however, some local families in the Tri-Cities are trying to prevent the surge from getting any worse.

Mayor Jenny Brock and her family celebrating Thanksgiving in 2019.

“I usually have 30 people at my house. This time, I have three dogs, my husband and we may visit with our grandchildren in their backyard because it’s going to be nice on Thanksgiving afternoon,” Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock said. “We also plan to connect with the rest of the family through Zoom.”

As the coronavirus pandemic continues, many are opting out of the traditional Thanksgiving celebration with extended family and friends and going virtual to promote physical distancing.

“What we’re finding that in our community, most of the spreads is taking place in smaller group environments. We had something happen in my family last month, where a group, small group got together for a dinner just kind of letting their guard down and thinking because they are family, everybody is safe. As it wound up, 6 family members contracted COVID,” Mayor Brock said. “The residual effects on some people are very long-lasting on them: extreme fatigue and people talk about the brain fog.”

Johnson City Mayor Jenny Brock said the community needs to be cautious.

Mayor Brock said, “I just want people to stay safe. Until we get the vaccine, and get people vaccinated, will it take us to that next level of where we have protections in place, until then, it is not good out there and people are very vulnerable. I have some friends who are in the medical center with COVID, very, very ill. They’re not going to have a nice Thanksgiving at all. So, the lease we can do is honor these people who are fighting so hard by not spreading this virus.”

East Tennessee State University student Kylee Phalen will not be at her dad’s house in Jonesborough this year due to a possible exposure from her roommate just days ago.

“My roommate’s mother tested positive. My roommate was exposed to her, so we’re just being super safe. Even though I wasn’t directly exposed, I was exposed to someone who could very, potentially have COVID,” Kylee Phalen said.

Kylee Phalen and her family celebrating Thanksgiving in 2019.

The change of plans does not mean they will be missing out on family time.

“We’re doing what’s called ‘Jack Box Games’. My brother will setup his Xbox and he’ll launch Jack Box,” Phalen said. “We type in the code for that specific game and we can all remotely play the same game together.”

Instead, they are creating new traditions.

“Because I’m not going to be there, they took advantage of that and they’re turning it into a ‘bros-giving’ and they’re going to have chicken wings and beers, and they’re going to drop some of that off at my porch,” Phalen said.

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