COVID-19 forces Manitoba families to cancel, adjust Thanksgiving plans

Limits on gatherings could impact occasions such as Thanksgiving, and earlier this week, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin encouraged people to avoid big gatherings.

Protecting immunocompromised family members, gathering size limits key factors in new plans

Public health restrictions, and a desire to protect loved ones, have led many Manitoba families to cancel or adjust their Thanksgiving plans this year. (wavebreakmedia/Shutterstock)

Lisa Kehler and her family usually pop by her mother's or sister's place for Thanksgiving dinner. But Kehler's 11-year-old son is attending school, her sister is a nurse, and her mother is immunocompromised after a kidney transplant and beating cancer.

So with rising COVID-19 cases, the Thanksgiving tradition was cancelled.

"We didn't want to put [our mother] in that situation," Kehler said, adding that she and her sister debated doing dinner together, but opted not to.

Instead, she texted her sister to suggest they postpone "and just do this when things are a little bit more clear as to what's going on with community spread and that sort of thing," she said.

Manitoba public health officials announced 84 new cases of COVID-19 on Friday — a new single-day record — and said three more people with the illness had died.

The province now has 933 active cases of COVID-19, including 804 in Winnipeg — which has been at the orange, or "restricted," level of the province's pandemic response system for nearly two weeks.

Winnipeg has 804 known active cases of COVID-19 as of Friday. (Caitlyn Gowriluk/CBC)

That brings a 10-person limit on public gatherings in the city and surrounding area. Gatherings at a person's home can have 10 people in addition to the number of people who live there. 

Those limits could impact Thanksgiving celebrations this weekend. Earlier this week, Chief Provincial Public Health Officer Dr. Brent Roussin urged people to avoid big gatherings.

"Reduce those amounts of close contacts that are outside of your household, and certainly [have] safeguards. If you are eating together with others, try to keep that distance, avoid sharing condiments and utensils," Roussin said during Thursday's COVID-19 news conference.

WATCH | Dr. Brent Roussin's advice for Thanksgiving:

Dr. Brent Roussin’s advice for Thanksgiving

2 years ago
Duration 0:50
Dr. Brent Roussin, Manitoba’s chief public health officer, says it’s best to limit Thanksgiving gatherings to household members this year — but if you don’t, there are steps you can take to limit the potential risk of spreading the illness.

Following public health rules is important this weekend because it gives Manitobans a greater chance of avoiding the long lineups at COVID-19 testing sites, said Michelle Driedger, a professor in the University of Manitoba's department of community health sciences.

"We're all in this together. I know sometimes that feels a bit like a hollow statement, because not everybody is necessarily as inconvenienced as others. But, really, we all have to kind of do our part in order to make sure we don't contribute to further spread," said Dreidger, whose expertise is health risk communication.

"[Staying apart] really is a challenge.… It's never fun, and it's really hard for people who don't necessarily have other people to be able to interact with."

Zoom dinner extends to Alberta, Italy

But that's led some families to find creative ways to connect for Thanksgiving.

Kehler will be cooking yams and making salad and stuffing, while her sister cooks a turkey, mashed potatoes, gravy and pumpkin pie. Kehler will leave some of what she makes on her doorstep for her sister to pick up, and will get some of what her sister makes in return.

Meanwhile, Winnipegger Candace Weselowski will be having one the largest family gatherings she's ever had — but virtually.

Weselowski, who is part of an Italian family, is used to having 25 or more relatives meet at her uncle's house on Thanksgiving. This year's get-together was cancelled due to the potential health risks to various family members.

So she pitched her family on the idea of connecting over Zoom.

"Whatever we're eating or drinking at the time, we can just pop online, say hi, share a toast, kind of talk about what we're thankful for … and then go on our way and not have to worry about cleaning up all the dishes and everything afterwards," she told them.

Her family loved the idea, she said, and relatives living in Italy, Alberta and New York will now also be joining in.

"My aunt who's in Italy was like, 'Yeah, I've got it. It'll be like 1 a.m. here, but I'm going to be there,'" Weselowski said.

Adapting, however, does not necessarily make the situation easier. Miriam Delos Santos, a member of Winnipeg's Filipino community, says gatherings like Thanksgiving are a big deal in her culture, and may include dozens of people.

Miriam Delos Santos with some of her extended family at a brunch in 2019. While big dinners are an important part of Filipino culture, Delos Santos said, her family won't be celebrating Thanksgiving this year. (Submitted by Miriam Delos Santos)

"It's kind of hard to swallow that you're not going to be able to see these people, especially since we've gone through so many restrictions and changes during this pandemic," Delos Santos said.

"Even within my own family, it's been hard to comply all the time to the rules, especially because we are so close-knit as a family — and as a Filipino community, we gain and find our identity so much [by] spending time with each other."

Protecting family members who are immunocompromised played a big part in cancelling the gathering, she said.

A cousin suggested the family connect via Zoom, she added. But otherwise, Delos Santos will likely be spending Thanksgiving Day with her five-year-old daughter.

Instead of eating turkey and various traditional Filipino foods, the two will likely enjoy "something that a five-year-old would eat," she said — possibly macaroni and cheese, yogurt and chocolate.


Nicholas Frew is an online reporter with CBC Edmonton who focuses mainly on data-driven stories. Hailing from Newfoundland and Labrador, Frew moved to Halifax to attend journalism school. He has previously worked for CBC newsrooms in Manitoba and Saskatchewan. Before joining CBC, he interned at the Winnipeg Free Press. You can reach him at

With files from Caitlyn Gowriluk