For most New Hampshire families, the 2020 Thanksgiving dinner table was abnormally empty. This year, that caution has mostly disappeared.
Nearly twice as many Granite Staters are planning to travel or host people in their homes this Thanksgiving than were last Thanksgiving, according to a poll by the University of New Hampshire, suggesting a broad shift in risk assessment over COVID-19.
In November 2020, only 38 percent of poll respondents said they had plans to visit or host during Thanksgiving. By Nov. 17, that number had jumped to 68 percent, the UNH Survey Center said.
And poll numbers suggest that older residents are seeing some of the biggest changes in attitude. While only 19 percent of those 65 or older attended a family gathering for Thanksgiving last year, 64 percent are planning to do so this year, the polling revealed.
And the number of younger Granite Staters — those 18 to 34 — with Thanksgiving plans to travel or host skyrocketed from 53 percent to 91 percent in one year, the poll found.
The numbers reflect two vastly different public health environments. In 2020, before vaccines were available, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention actively warned families to avoid travel for Thanksgiving and to keep dinners contained to those in the same household.
“To the extent possible, keep the gatherings, the indoor gatherings as small as you possibly can,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said at the time. “… If you bring people into the home who are not part of the immediate household, there is a risk there.”
This year, with 59 percent of the country fully vaccinated, the CDC has changed its messaging, delivering most of its advice to families with members who are not vaccinated.
“If you are considering traveling for a holiday or event, visit CDC’s Travel page to help you decide what is best for you and your family,” the agency says on its website. “CDC still recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated.”
Elsewhere, the website states: “Because many generations tend to gather to celebrate holidays, the best way to minimize COVID-19 risk and keep your family and friends safer is to get vaccinated if you’re eligible.”
Still, even with the increased confidence around family gatherings — and despite the warnings by the CDC — additional polling by the University of New Hampshire Survey Center suggests that around one in five Granite Staters continue to decline to take a COVID-19 vaccine, a proportion that has stagnated since August.
New Hampshire COVID-19 case counts and hospitalizations are rising to levels last seen in December and January, before vaccines were widely available; the vast majority of hospitalizations have involved unvaccinated patients, state health officials say.
The eagerness to return to the Thanksgiving table has not been equal among income groups. While respondents in every income category are more likely to be hosting or visiting, only 52 percent of those making household incomes of less than $45,000 are planning to do so — compared to 23 percent in that category in 2020.
Meanwhile, 92 percent of wealthy residents — those in households making $150,000 or more, are celebrating turkey day with people outside their household, more than double from last year’s 45 percent in the same wealth bracket, the poll found.
People are feeling similarly buoyant about Christmas; just 33 percent of families do not plan to travel or host people on Christmas Day this year, down from 67 percent in fall 2021.