Yesterday via Zoom, my wife, Laurel, and I discussed the holidays from a Covid perspective with a dozen friends about our age -- some older, in their 80s, some younger, in their 50s and 60s, and some like us, in their 70s.
So, yeah, it was a decidedly senior group. Keep that in mind as I describe both the anxiety and hope shared last night.
Since this was a meeting of our monthly Salon discussion group, we took the opportunity to talk about what to do in December: have an in-person gathering, or keep on Zoom'ing.
Two-thirds (8) were fine with meeting in-person at our house. We're all fully vaccinated. I'm pretty sure everybody has gotten a booster shot. We all wear masks when out and about in indoor spaces, like grocery stores, where some people may be unvaccinated.
This portion of our group, which included me and Laurel, felt that the benefit of getting together for a December potluck definitely was worth the minor Covid risk of meeting in-person.
We don't find a Zoom meeting nearly as satisfying as a real meeting. Zoom is better than nothing, but way less satisfying than sitting in a living room and conversing face-to-face. Naturally we're concerned about our physical health. Our mental health is equally important to us, though.
The other third of our group, four people, were less enthused about meeting in-person. Two friends were adamant that they didn't want to do this maskless, since eating and drinking requires taking a mask off.
They correctly noted that asymptomatic spread of Covid can happen via vaccinated people, which potentially increases the chance that more dangerous variants other than Delta will pop up. And two friends were undecided, leaning for the moment against meeting in-person.
Which is fine.
As with most issues, different people can be equally familiar with the same facts, yet come to varying conclusions about the meaning of those facts. My Tai Chi instructor likes to say about alternative ways of doing Tai Chi, "Not good/bad or right/wrong. Just different."
So if your family or group of friends isn't in agreement about how to handle a Thanksgiving get-together, don't make this into a battle. Likely there's a way to please most people, though maybe not everyone completely.
The New York Times has a useful story, "We're Having a Holiday Gathering. Are We Nuts?"
The story asks a series of questions about your gathering, beginning with Will everyone at the gathering be vaccinated? In the case of our discussion group the answer was yes. Which produced this response.
Happy Vaxgiving! Enjoy your celebration knowing that by being vaccinated, you’ve already made the party safer for everyone.
To further lower risk, encourage every adult to seek out a booster shot. It only takes a few days for the extra protection to kick in. While you’re at it, get your flu shot! Flu remains a serious health risk during the winter.
You’re well protected with vaccines and boosters, but since no vaccine provides 100 percent protection, keep going for more advice to help make sure the coronavirus doesn’t crash your holiday party.
The next question was Is there anyone who will be at your gathering who's at high risk from Covid-19? I said yes. Which elicited:
A lot of people will share their holidays with an older parent, grandparent or others at high risk. The key to a safer celebration is this: Plan the event around the most vulnerable person in the room.
Consider bringing the party to them, so someone at high risk doesn’t have to spend time in airports or on trains. People at high risk should get booster shots and talk to their doctors about the risks of traveling.
Getting tested a few days before the party and using on-the-spot home tests on the day of the event will allow you to enjoy each other’s company without worrying. Adding a portable air cleaner, opening windows or turning on exhaust fans can also lower risk for Covid and any other viruses that might be lurking. Anyone with the sniffles should stay home.
Nobody likes wearing masks — and if everyone is vaccinated and tested, they aren’t really needed. But some high-risk people may be more comfortable using a mask and having others wear them, too.
Since we all live in the Salem area, traveling by public transport didn't apply to our group. The other advice did, though.
It makes sense to use home tests to reassure people that no one at a gathering has Covid. I'll suggest this to our group, though I'm not sure how easy it is to get home tests or how much they cost.
Regarding masks, I'm going to tell our discussion group that anyone who wants to wear a mask throughout our December gathering should do so. No need to partake of food and drink if they don't want to.
And we could use part of our house as a place where anyone who's concerned about being around maskless eaters and drinkers could do their own eating and drinking, then rejoin us when they're done.
There's ways to make almost everyone comfortable with attending a holiday gathering. This just takes a bit of common sense, collaboration, and flexibility. The New York Times story correctly points out that the most Covid-vulnerable people should get special consideration, since they run the greatest risk.