Staff Photo by Matt Hamilton / Mayor Jim Coppinger, left, greets Dr. David Bruce with an elbow bump before the press conference Tuesday at the Hamilton County Health Department. Hamilton County Mayor Jim Coppinger renewed a mask mandate through Nov. 22 for the county on Tuesday, Oct. 6, 2020.

This Thanksgiving, you're not going to intentionally undercook the turkey, are you? Some salmonella and gravy for your guests?

No. Of course not. Just like you won't leave the gun safe unlocked. Or the stove on. Or push grandma down the stairs.

Driving for Thanksgiving? Will you buckle up? Obey the traffic lights?

Yes. Of course.

Because you love your family and friends. You want them safe. Living long lives.

So you make decisions that honor and protect them.

So this Thanksgiving, don't kill your friends and family.

Wear a mask. Gather outside. Keep it small. Or, postpone it entirely.

Don't have a Thanksgiving you regret on Christmas.

"We don't really want to see mamaw at Thanksgiving and bury her by Christmas," Dr. Mark Horne, president of the Mississippi State Medical Association, told The Associated Press. "It's going to happen. You're going to say 'Hi' at Thanksgiving, 'It was so great to see you,' and you're going to either be visiting by FaceTime in the ICU or planning a small funeral before Christmas."

This week, local surgeon Dr. David Bruce said the same.

"Please, this Thanksgiving, call your family. Zoom or FaceTime with them, but don't eat with them. Don't go inside with your grandparents, aunts, uncles, nieces and nephews," he said. "I want your family to be around for Christmas."

Bruce spoke at Thursday's news conference; the county mayor wisely extended our mask mandate.

Normally, this would be met with cheers and wise nods.

Yet the conference, sadly, felt like an uphill battle. Mayor Jim Coppinger brought out a doctor, a widow, a daughter grieving her dead father, a survivor, a businessman, the school superintendent, another doctor — it was so surreal, watching 90 minutes of emotional persuasion ... just ... to get us ... to do ... the right thing.

"Why wouldn't you want to save a life by wearing your mask?" Melissa Baskette asked, through tears.

On Aug. 7, her dad tested positive.

A week later, he went to the hospital.

"We weren't allowed to go see him, touch him," she said. "You still can't be in the room with him. You still can't hold his hand while he takes his last breath."

On Sept. 6, Mike Baskettefather, husband, faithful Catholic, businessman, Yankees fan, Sigma Chi, devoted Republican — died.

He was 68.

"My husband did his part," said Emily. "He wore his mask. He used hand sanitizer. He was a germaphobe. He wanted to protect you and someone out there didn't protect him."

How do you think they feel when so many of us disregard and fake-news this virus? How many church services this morning are maskless? How many bars last night?

"I support Mayor Coppinger and the mask mandate," business leader Ken DeFoor said Thursday. "To shut down the Chattanooga economy again would be devastating."

Look, I know life is hard right now. Maybe the hardest.

The bitter cup is at all our tables. We're limping into Thanksgiving, exhausted and traumatized. We all know someone lonely or sick, a business struggling or family suffering.

We need to gather together.

Just not like this. Not the old Thanksgiving.

We need a new Thanksgiving.

Giving thanks during a pandemic is a gut check; it forces us to take inventory in clear-eyed ways. In times of difficulty — when the hard rains fall — we see exactly our true needs, blessings and places of abundance.

Most years, a normal Thanksgiving can disguise this, mixing gluttony with gratitude. The turkey gets stuffed. Then, I do. Around this national Wonka factory of food and drink, I lose perspective. After the 1,000th bite: the flavor is gone.

Not this year.

We are acutely aware of what has been lost.

And what can be lost.

So our Thanksgivings become more pronounced. Our syllables deepen. Our hearts turn honest. Giving thanks in the valley of the shadow becomes the most genuine thanks of all.

My extended family — if we gather at all — will be outside, around a fire, wearing masks and distant. No, it's not ideal.

But, you know, we can handle it.

It's a hell of a lot better than an intensive care unit.

"There's a percentage of people who will not make it through this," said Dr. Adam Soufleris, infectious disease specialist and part of the county's advisory panel.

He then paused, lowering his head at the press conference microphone, emotion welling in his voice.

"We've just got to take this seriously," he said. "I plead with people from Hamilton County to do so."

David Cook can be reached at

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David Cook