Are the holidays safe to have in person during COVID-19?

“The United States has surpassed yet another devastating milestone in the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic: 250,000 Americans have now died from the disease,” NPR reported on Nov. 18, 2020.

COVID-19 cases are soaring, leading many states including Oregon to put restrictions back in place. However, the holidays are right around the corner; are people going to gather to celebrate this year? As Thanksgiving quickly approaches, people cannot help but have this on their minds.

The holidays are times to celebrate with friends and family—to be happy, grateful and enjoy the little things. Yet, this year is quite different. Right now, it is dangerous to celebrate the normal way. Gathering outside your bubble of people increases the likelihood of getting and spreading COVID-19. Masks will not be worn, people will be within 6 feet of each other and cleaning procedures will be forgotten. Spreading this virus does not just endanger you or the people around you, but strangers as well.

It’s true COVID-19 apparently does not seem to harm younger people as much, but what about the parents? The grandparents? What about the immune-compromised? For these groups of people, this virus is fatal. Furthermore, with it spreading quickly, many hospitals will not allow loved ones to visit or even say goodbye in dire situations. Seeing cousins or grandparents is a highly anticipated event each year, but at what cost? Gathering in person for the holidays puts the ones you love the most at risk.

It is not just you or your loved ones in danger of possible holiday gatherings—total strangers, communities and the whole country could be impacted. COVID-19 spreads rapidly from person to person, often before someone even realizes they’re sick. Choosing to celebrate with others in person can quickly spread the virus to the whole community. Maybe one family will not be affected at all, while other families could be destroyed. It impacts the whole community. The more people that get sick, the more restrictions are put in place. People lose their jobs, childcare, education and essential services. Each day, there are more and more deaths across the U.S. Just one gathering could spread the virus to hundreds. Right now, there are not enough resources to track and make sure everyone quarantines. Maybe the whole country will not be wiped out, but people will suffer. People need income, jobs, safe medical care, education and food. This all becomes scarce when the country shuts down or gets sick. Millions of people travel and gather for holidays and this year that can spell disaster for everyone.

Gathering in person this holiday season is not just dangerous, but selfish as well. People are dying and being hospitalized all the time. In addition, first responders and doctors suffer just as much as the infected do. Sick people need medicine, care and ventilators in some cases. All of this is provided by doctors in hospitals. Many places around the country are running out of space to take care of people or provide tests. It’s running medical staff thin. Not to mention, there are tons of people that need care that do not have COVID-19. Just because there is a pandemic does not mean EMTs, firefighters, police, scientists and doctors do not have to answer other calls for help as well. These people are putting their lives, sanity and families on the line to save others. The more Americans who disregard warnings and gather in person, the more harm done to the medical heroes we need the most right now. There will not be an end to this pandemic without the medical world.

Despite the dangers, not having normalcy is hard. Families have traditions and people have others they miss. The holidays are for being together sharing hugs, laughs and memories. Just because it is not safe to meet in person does not mean those things cannot be felt this year. Celebrations can be held with people you interact with every day. Maybe that is not the people you normally gather with during the holidays, but you can still experience togetherness and joy. In addition, there are tons of great technologies made to connect people. You can still see grandparents through Skype, cousins over Zoom, siblings/parents with Google Meet and friends through FaceTime. It’s sad many people will not be in the same room as each other, but there are other ways to connect and even see each other. Being virtual is not the same, but isn’t it better to protect people? Isn’t it better to help end the spread?

This year has been difficult and having to interact with loved ones over technology all the time does not help, but it will not last forever. If Americans wear masks, social distance, clean like crazy and not celebrate in person, the pandemic will be over quicker. There are scientists, researchers and doctors working around the clock to create a vaccine and new treatments for COVID-19. Again, this will not last forever. If individuals meet virtually for the holidays instead of in person, there is a chance next year all the holidays will be normal.

As always, there is still so much to be thankful for even during these difficult times.