Americans marked the Thanksgiving holiday Thursday amid an unrelenting pandemic that has claimed the lives of more than 263,000 people in the United States so far this year.
Turkey and pies still came out of ovens, football was still on TV, families still gave thanks and had lively conversations about politics, but the holiday was utterly altered after months filled with sorrows and hardships.
Many feasts were weighed down by the loss of loved ones. Others were canceled or scaled back with the virus surging.
Millions of people traveled, but it was against the advice of public health officials, and millions more stayed home.
The Macy's Thanksgiving Day Parade was drastically scaled back and spectators were few.
Zoom and FaceTime calls were a fixture at dinner tables to connect with family members who didn't want to travel. Far fewer volunteers helped at soup kitchens or community centers.
Workers at a Utah health department delivered boxes of food to people infected with the virus who couldn't go to groceries to shop, and a New York nursing home offered drive-up visits for families.
"The holidays make it a little harder," said Harriet Krakowsky, an 85-year-old resident of the Hebrew Home at Riverdale in New York who misses the big Thanksgiving celebrations of years past and has lost neighbors and friends to the virus. "I cry, but I get over it. We have to go on."
Vivian Zayas in Deer Park, N.Y., can't keep herself from scrolling through photos of last Thanksgiving, when her mother stood at the stove to make a big pot of rice and beans, and then took a seat at the edge of the table.
That was before anyone had heard of covid-19 and before it claimed the retired seamstress. Ana Martinez died at 78 on April 1 while recovering at a nursing home from a knee replacement.
On Thursday, the family had its traditional meal of turkey, yams, green beans, and rice and beans -- but Zayas removed a seat from the table, and put her mother's walker in its place.
"It's a painful Thanksgiving. You don't even know, should you celebrate?" Zayas asked. "It's a lonely time."
The family is left with "an empty chair at the table forever," another daughter, Alexa Rivera, said Thursday.
In Clearwater, Fla., Kara McKlemurry and her husband would normally drive from their home to either his family's home in another part of the state or her family's house in Alabama. This year, McKlemurry informed her family there would be no visits. When her in-laws offered to stop by, the couple said no.
She and her husband didn't want to risk infecting anyone or getting the virus themselves.
Still, McKlemurry, 27, wanted to do something unique to mark the unusual holiday -- something to let everyone know that she and her husband still feel blessed. So, a week before Thanksgiving, armed with colored pens and stickers of owls with scarves, she wrote notes of gratitude to every member of the family.
"We're so grateful to have you in our lives," she wrote on a card with a cartoon fox, "even if we can't actually be together this year for the holidays."
In the nation's capital, the convention center was empty unlike in previous years, when volunteers worked together to serve a meal to about 5,000 people. In the era of social distancing, the sponsored event had to be reimagined.
Ahead of the holiday, organizers delivered to 20 nonprofits 5,000 gift bags, each with winter clothing accessories, hand sanitizers and masks, and 5,000 boxes that each included a turkey sandwich with condiments, potato salad, a cookie and utensils.
From start to finish, Thanksgiving was different this year for Jessica Franz, a nurse who works the graveyard shift at Olathe Medical Center in a Kansas City suburb.Gallery: Virus changes Thanksgiving
Franz, 39, celebrated without her mother-in-law, Elaine Franz, who died of the coronavirus Nov. 10, just a day before her 78th birthday. In previous years, her mother-in-law, who was Mennonite, would lay out a spread for her children and grandchildren. At Franz's workplace, in a typical year, co-workers would bring food for a potluck.
None of that happened this year.
The family shifted the festivities to Zoom and FaceTime. It's been hard for her daughters -- ages, 2, 8 and 11. Her middle daughter was exposed to the coronavirus at school and is quarantined until Dec. 3, and her oldest daughter struggled with the concept of a scaled-back holiday.
"We had a good conversation that was, 'this year may be different, and that's OK. It is one year. If things are different this year and that means we get to see all the rest of our family next year, it is OK,'" said Franz, who has cared for patients dying of coronavirus.
The Thanksgiving gathering at David Forsyth's home in Southern California came with a uniquely 2020 feel: rapid virus tests at the door to decide who could enter.
Normally, 15-20 people attend the family's Thanksgiving dinner in Channel Islands Harbor. But this year it was only eight: Forsyth, his wife, her four adult sons and the partners of two of them.
His wife started cooking Tuesday -- a cold cucumber soup for a starter and a bunch of appetizers for the early afternoon meal. The sons brought side dishes. Turkey and fixings were the main course. Champagne was a possibility.
Forsyth hasn't seen his family much during the pandemic and wanted to save the holiday.
"People are trying to live a normal life," he said. "And, you know, with the second wave coming now, it's not a bad idea to be prepared."
Kerry Osaki longs to see his grown children, without masks, and hug them. But instead he and his wife celebrated as just the two of them after their traditions were upended.
Osaki's 93-year-old mother, Rose, who lived with the couple in Orange County in California, died from the virus after all three got sick.
With his mother gone, Osaki, 67, and his cousin decided to not hold the family's annual Thanksgiving get-together. His wife, Lena Adame, typically spent the holiday cooking a spread of turkey and stuffing with her relatives -- but some had seen virus cases at their workplaces, so the couple decided to skip that too.
"It's just been a long, rough and sometimes sad year," he said.
In Ogden, Utah, Evelyn Maysonet stepped out of her home Tuesday morning to find boxes overflowing with canned goods, desserts and a turkey. She has been isolating with her husband and son since all three tested positive for covid-19.
None of them has been able to go buy groceries, so they were thrilled to receive the health department's delivery -- and the chance to cherish the things that matter most.
"As long as you have a life and you're still alive, just make the best of it with you and your family," Maysonet said.
Much of the Macy's parade in Manhattan was scaled down and taped for television. The route was reduced from 2 miles to a single block on 34th Street, near the flagship department store.
There were no high school bands. Instead of the usual 2,000 balloon handlers, there were only about 130.
Pandemic warnings kept millions of people indoors this year, and police barricades were in place to ensure nobody got too close. Still, some people were curious and showed up anyway.
Karin Schlosser, 52, stood behind one of the barricades taking photos of the floats and balloons, which included the characters Boss Baby and Red Titan from "Ryan's World."
"I felt like it was a big adventure to just come on down here and see what I could see -- and I actually saw much more than I expected to see," said Schlosser, who is from California but is living in New York City for a month while working from home. "This is so amazing."
"I think people still really need some sense of normalcy," she said. "Everyone I've talked to is very aware of the pandemic. They want to be safe. They're wearing masks, but they still want to connect with other people."
Dozens gathered for the event shortly after 9 a.m. taking photos with their cellphones. A man with a woman snapped a selfie with Christmas floats in the background -- but there was no crowd of thousands.
Henry Danner of the Bronx recalled going to the parade with his family as a child and watching his cousins perform in marching bands. This year, Danner, 34, a freelance photographer and journalism student at Columbia University, said he was most interested in witnessing and documenting what it was like to attend a parade during a pandemic.
"The Thanksgiving parade is a staple in New York history," Danner said. "I came to see what story I could capture. I knew New York was going to be New York and still come out."
But much about the annual event was different, he said.
"The energy is very somber," Danner said.
Kaitlin Lawrence, 31, and Zeev Kirsh, 40, tried to inject a little levity by attending in turkey costumes. Lawrence merged her two favorite holidays, Thanksgiving and Christmas, and dressed as a turkey-Santa.
The number of travelers screened at U.S. airports on Thanksgiving eve was the highest since shutdowns began in mid-March, as many Americans bucked warnings by health officials.
More than 1.07 million people went through airport screening Wednesday, according to the Transportation Security Administration -- though that's still only about 40% of the number on the equivalent day last year.
In three of the past six days, TSA screened more than 1 million people each day. On the other three days, the number of travelers exceeded 910,000. At the height of shutdowns in April, daily passenger screenings fell below 100,000 on several occasions.
Lily Roberts, 19, said she got tested for covid-19 at San Francisco International Airport before driving home to Marin County in Northern California.
"I'm not worried about it because I'm not at risk," Roberts said. "However, I do follow the rules and the precautions because of my parents. That's why I'm getting tested, because I do not want to bring it into my home."
Lexi Cusano, 23, said she encountered people standing too close in airport terminals, some not wearing masks or wearing them improperly, on her way from Miami to Hartford, Conn.
"It was just a little bit overwhelming and very shocking to me that people were just -- you couldn't move in a 6-foot radius without hitting someone or breathing in with a person next to you," she said. "It was just a little bit crazy."
She said travelers didn't act any safer on the plane.
"People were just hanging out without their masks on," said Cusano. "I saw them walking back and forth from the bathroom, down the aisles, with no mask on, and I was like, this is a little bit ridiculous now."
"You know, the main fear people have usually going on planes is: 'Are we going to crash?'" she added. "But today, it was more like, 'I'm breathing in the same air that's been circulating in here and people are just being very irresponsible.' So that was the main horror."
On Wednesday morning, Denver Mayor Michael Hancock urged residents to stay home and meet family members online for Thanksgiving.
"Pass the potatoes, not covid. Host virtual gatherings instead of in-person dinners," the Democrat tweeted. "Avoid travel, if you can."
Then, less than an hour later, Hancock boarded a flight to Mississippi for Thanksgiving with his wife and daughter, his spokesman confirmed to The Washington Post.
The move left critics blasting Hancock for appearing to ignore his own advice at a time when the coronavirus continues to rise precipitously in Colorado.
"Our Mayor has abandoned his city during one of the most critical times we needed leadership the most," tweeted Tay Anderson, a Denver Board of Education member.
Hours later, amid mounting blowback on social media and from local officials, the mayor apologized.
"I made my decision as a husband and father, and for those who are angry and disappointed, I humbly ask you to forgive decisions that are borne of my heart and not my head," he tweeted.
Information for this article was contributed by Regina Garcia Cano, Matt Sedensky, Heather Hollingsworth, Tamara Lush, Jennifer Sinco Kelleher, Sophia Eppolito, Amy Taxin, John Minchillo, Daniella Peters and Haven Daley of The Associated Press; by Jan Ransom of The New York Times; by Yueqi Yang of Bloomberg News; and by Andrea Salcedo of The Washington Post.