When her pumpkin pie never arrived, senior Lauren King got up to make cheese quesadillas for her Thanksgiving dinner. She ate by herself in Bloomington while her family enjoyed their turkey just over an hour away. For the first time in her life, her family wasn’t together for the holiday.
There were many empty seats this Thanksgiving, whether from social distancing, smaller gatherings or the nearly 280,000 Americans who have died from COVID-19. In 2020, Thanksgiving had almost no resemblance to the holiday normally centered around uniting families and quality time together. And then there were those like King, who had their holidays shrunk to a party of one — isolating away from everyone they love because they were infected with the coronavirus.
For some students, isolating during the holiday meant being back home with family but unable to see them, limited to conversations on opposite sides of a closed door. For others, it meant hotel stays with no turkey feasts and instead fast food from just off the side of the highway.
King is from Avon, Indiana, and tested positive for COVID-19 the Tuesday before Thanksgiving. She was fatigued and aching. She said she could get 12 hours of sleep, wake up in the morning and be ready to take a nap for five more hours.
And as soon as her test came back positive, she knew she wouldn’t be going home for the holiday. She hadn’t been home since August, but with an immunocompromised sibling, it wasn’t safe for her to go back.
“This was the first time that all of the kids weren't going to be at home for a major holiday, so it was sad, but we all knew that it was for the best and there was nothing that we could do to change,” King said.
On Thanksgiving morning, she set her alarm to wake up and FaceTime her family, keeping their tradition to watch the Macy’s Thanksgiving Day Parade. At least virtually, they were together.
“It did not feel like a holiday at all,” King said.
Her parents ordered her dinner from Farm that night as something special, and her sense of taste was just starting to return. It included the pumpkin pie, which King was most excited for. But it never arrived. Tired of waiting and hungry, King made quesadillas with guacamole and sat to eat Thanksgiving dinner by herself.
Thanksgiving was her last day of isolation, but she still couldn’t go home because of her classes and wanting to ensure her family stayed safe. So on Black Friday ,she went straight to the grocery store to replenish her pantry and bought a cup of coffee she could finally taste.
Senior Brandon Hernandez opened the door of his childhood bedroom to pick up his Thanksgiving dinner. It had been carried up using a cutting board as a tray. He had fried turkey, ham, mashed potatoes and corn on his plate, with napkins and two water bottles on the cutting board and the Reese’s cup his mom left as a treat.
Hernandez could taste his turkey, but he couldn't smell it.
He got tested at home in Dyer, Indiana, the Monday before Thanksgiving, and received a positive result the next day. When Hernandez got home, his brother was completing his own COVID-19 isolation period. Hernandez started his isolation almost immediately as his brother finished.
“My mom’s actually had a mask on for the past month, it’s been back-to-back,” Hernandez said.
He didn’t have symptoms until the fifth day after he tested positive. With a pounding headache, chills and an aching body, Hernandez said it was a miserable Thanksgiving.
“It was weird to be in my room and everyone’s enjoying their time,” Hernandez said. “You see everyone’s Snapchats.”
Hernandez’s mom would call him so they could still talk to each other or chat with him through the door. He watched TV on his laptop, played iPhone games with friends and at least found some excitement betting on sports games.
And instead of wearing a sweater like he usually would on Thanksgiving night, he ate his meal in a sweatshirt and sweatpants while watching football.
“I’m an introvert and I know there’s a lot of alone time that I enjoy, but that was way too much alone time,” Hernandez said.
Junior Aden Tomasson and sophomore Josh Gabriel, both members of the Phi Kappa Tau fraternity, spent their isolations in Bloomington hotels. Tomasson stayed in the Home2 Suites, and Gabriel in The Graduate.
Phi Kappa Tau was not one of the more than 30 fraternities directed to quarantine early in the semester. But in what Gabriel called horrible timing, the fraternity was directed to quarantine just before Thanksgiving began. No students stayed in the house to quarantine over Thanksgiving break.
Tomasson signed up for IU’s on-departure testing. His test there came back positive. He got a second test, and that was positive too. He was quickly moved to the hotel where he was instructed by the fraternity to isolate on the Friday before Thanksgiving. He wasn’t given a room key to ensure he couldn’t leave.
He brought his PlayStation, his monitor and computer to help him pass the time. He said because it was break, there wasn’t much incentive for him to wake up. He got up most days between 1 and 3 p.m.
When he finally got up, Tomasson ate a bowl of cereal. He made lunch in a microwave and ordered dinner from DoorDash. Like all the others in isolation, it didn’t take long for boredom to set in — especially stuck in a hotel room more than 1,000 miles from his family.
Tomasson is from Denver and was supposed to fly home for Thanksgiving. Instead his dad drove to Bloomington to pick him up. And on Thanksgiving Day, when Tomasson’s isolation ended, they left at 6 a.m. to begin the nearly 16-hour drive back to Colorado.
He had his Thanksgiving dinner at Subway, ordering a chicken and sweet onion sandwich with his dad. He doesn’t love turkey anyway.
Gabriel, the other Phi Kappa Tau member, never tested positive but was a close contact of someone infected as a COVID-19 outbreak spread through the fraternity. He never had symptoms either, but his parents wanted him to isolate before coming home to the San Francisco Bay Area.
“I didn't want to come home and have the potential to spread something,” Gabriel said. “People who were negative went home but obviously it was difficult for me because I have to get on an airplane and it's a big trip, but it was a little frustrating.”
Gabriel’s isolation also ended Thanksgiving morning, so he spent his holiday on an airplane.
His flight left a silent and empty Indianapolis airport in the early evening, and had a layover at the loud and crowded Denver airport.
Normally Gabriel’s family has Thanksgiving dinner with his grandparents near San Francisco. His family still went to his grandparents' house while Gabriel was flying. So Gabriel ate his Thanksgiving dinner by himself, getting a barbecue chicken pizza in the Denver airport instead of turkey with family.
“It was the first year I missed that so I was obviously sad,” Gabriel said. “But even if I was home I don't think I wouldn't have gone because my grandparents are old. My grandma sent us leftovers, so I had leftovers the next day.”
Gabriel is still at home, quarantining after his travel as per California’s policy. Tomasson traveled back to Bloomington after a long weekend at home. He’s in I-Core and said he needed to be back in town.
Tomasson is back in the Phi Kappa Tau house, living in quarantine. He said there are around 15 people in the house now, and it’s quiet. He had heard stories all semester about quarantining from friends in other greek houses, and now was experiencing it himself. But he’s just happy no one in his family got sick.
“Just the main part is we’re young, healthy kids, getting it isn't as big of a deal as giving it back to our older family members,” Tomasson said. “So that was just the most worrying part for people.”