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Local leaders reinvent holiday season plans amid pandemic

By Heather Graves

BROWN COUNTY – As much has in 2020, the upcoming holiday season is likely to look much different than in years past.

COVID-19 cases continue to rise throughout the area, and health experts are urging everyone to modify their festivities to reduce the spread of the virus.

This leaves many grappling with how to spend the holiday season – including local community leaders who are reinventing their holiday plans.

Green Bay Mayor Eric Genrich’s holidays are typically filled with family and friends – his parents’ house packed with 15 to 20 people, a tradition going back years.

“We usually celebrate with a large number of people – parents, cousins, aunts, uncles,” Genrich said. “Then we spend time with my wife’s side of the family as well.”

The same can be said for De Pere Mayor James Boyd.

“I come from a pretty big family, and in a normal year we would all get together in one location with our spouses, kids and other family members – usually over 40 people for Thanksgiving,” Boyd said.

Those traditions won’t be happening this year.

“We will all be celebrating Thanksgiving with our own families for the first time in many years,” Boyd said. “We realize that this is necessary to help slow the spread of the virus and limit the risk of infecting others.”

The Genrichs are also keeping things smaller this year.

“Our parents are over the age of 70 and aunts and uncles are of course in that same age range,” Genrich said. “We don’t feel comfortable getting together with that many people in a small confined space.”

Instead, he will celebrate with his immediate family – his wife and their two children.

“We talked about maybe going away and celebrating that way, but that would just be maybe renting a cabin up north,” he said.

While missing out on large family functions is hard, Brown County Executive Troy Streckenbach knows it’s the right thing to do.

Like many others, Streckenach doesn’t want to risk getting the virus, giving it to his loved ones or contributing to another spike in the community.

Streckbach is trading in his usual large holiday gathering for a small dinner with his immediate family.

“We will be taking the advice of the experts,” he said. “It might not be ideal, but it’s the common sense thing to do.”

All three leaders understand the frustration and disappointment many are feeling, because they feel it too.

“Many of us are accustomed to the big family experience,” Genrich said. “We are all sick of it, I mean this is really tough. It is difficult for people to live in the isolation that has been asked of us, but the more serious we are about abiding by the public health guidelines, I think the sooner we’ll be able to get back to some semblance of normalcy. We all understand how overwhelmed our medical professionals and health care workers are. So it is very important to listen to what our public health experts are recommending.”

Genrich’s concerns are not his alone.

Boyd knows the challenges the coronavirus brings – having contracted it earlier this fall.

That however, will not change his plans of downsizing his holidays and he hopes everyone else will follow the guidance of the experts.

“I am one of many who have tested positive for COVID-19,” Boyd said. “Unfortunately, we will not experience any kind of normal until we have a vaccine. This virus is extremely contagious and it seems that everyone reacts differently to the symptoms and the recovery. For the sake of our economy and those most vulnerable we must continue to mask up, maintain social distance, wash our hands and avoid large gatherings.”

Altering age-old traditions can take a toll on the entire family.

Genrich said he and his wife have already begun discussing how this year’s holidays will be different with their two children.

“We have certainly talked about it a bit.” he said. “We are just being open and honest with the kids and letting them know why things are being done differently than they have been in years past. So much has changed when it comes to going to school – which is obviously virtual. And they have been very adaptable.”

That doesn’t mean there haven’t been some bumps in the road, he said.

“They have been dealing with this stuff in a pretty impressive way,” he said. “They are used to the changes we’ve had to make in the past year and I’m sure they will roll with these changes as well.”

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