Tuesday, 1 Dec 2020

Opinion | Your Bubble Is Bigger Than You Think It Is

Should you travel to see family for the holidays? First investigate your potential lethality to the older people in your life.

Credit…Illustrations by Tomi Um

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By Farhad Manjoo

Opinion Columnist

Experts and officials are unequivocal: Stay home for the holidays. Getting together with family for Thanksgiving without quarantining beforehand is like “bringing a loaded pistol for Grandma’s head,” Jared Polis, the governor of Colorado, warned earlier this month.

Mark Horne, the president of the Mississippi State Medical Association, sketched out grandma’s demise in even more horrifying detail. “You’re going to say ‘Hi’ at Thanksgiving, ‘It’s so nice to see you’,” he said in a recent briefing, and then “you’re either going to be visiting her by FaceTime in the I.C.U. or planning a small funeral by Christmas.”

So there should be no question about my plans. Rather than traveling 300 miles to celebrate Thanksgiving with my sister and my parents — among them my diabetic father, age 71 — my wife, my two kids and I should stay home and binge-watch bad TV.

And yet, for weeks, I’ve been on the fence. After all that has happened this year, the idea of skipping Thanksgiving has brought me low. I am blessed not to have lost anyone close to me to the coronavirus. For my family, the pandemic’s most crushing hardship has been its enforced isolation, especially the cruel way it has cleaved us apart at generational seams, separating my kids from their grandparents.

There are psychological and physical dangers to isolation, but I’ve been mourning the most basic loss: We are all missing out on a lot of time with one another. As we squander our days apart, alone, glued to screens, kids keep growing up, grandparents keep growing older, babies are born, people die. I worry about life passing us by just as we’re trying to save it. If 2020 has taught me anything, it is to resist taking the future for granted and to impose an actuarial frankness on all of our planning. Sure, we could skip Thanksgiving this year — but how many future Thanksgivings will we all have together, anyway?

To find some empirical foothold in a debate mired in uncertainty, I decided to investigate my own potential lethality to the older people in my life. Among other things, I contact-traced myself — an exercise that ended up being nearly as vulgar as it sounds. I went to all of my regular close contacts, then I went to all of their contacts, and so on, asking everyone about their potential exposure to the virus.

What I found floored me.

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