Complicated Thoughts About the State of the Pandemic

I don’t resent our governments imposing restrictions during a pandemic. Part of their elected duty is to protect their citizens, and as long as they’re making data-based decisions, and applying them without bias, I have no complaints.

I don’t resent my job becoming primarily about sitting on Zoom meetings all day. I had the privilege of working from home before and feel blessed that the pandemic hasn’t impacted me professionally, or our household financially.

I don’t resent staying home more, or spend too much time bemoaning the adjustment to our social lives. Here again we have some privilege – there’s plenty of space, and lots to do (my project backlog has shrunk considerably this year!) And I’ve never enjoyed superficial interactions or large gatherings, so 2020 was more my scene anyway.

We’ve been lucky, and I acknowledge the privilege that has made 2020, while less-than-ideal, certainly not catastrophic for us.

But I do have one complaint about this virus: its impact on our ability to travel. To see the world, to visit family and friends, to give our kids different and varied experiences as they develop; these are things that are important to us, and Covid-19 just doesn’t care.

We did manage three adventures over the holiday season, each with different levels of risk – and each followed by two weeks of effective isolation. That’s more freedom than our family in Canada has available to them. There’s plenty to be said about the incompetence that steered America through this pandemic, but I do feel we’re facing a new phase here: one that should be defined by responsible management of a factor in our environment – instead of fearful withdrawal from the unknown.

Cases in the US continue to look insane compared to the rest of the world, but unlike in March and April, where we didn’t understand this thing, we have new tools in our tool belt…

The vaccines are a scientific marvel – but despite the press, they weren’t invented in a year. In fact, the mRNA approach has been refined for decades; this year gave us way to put those learnings to use for the benefit of everyone. Our household isn’t anywhere near the front of the line to get our jabs, but as soon as we can, we will.

Medical interventions are better now: we’ve learned how to help people through the virus, and while there are still bad potential outcomes, the data shows a massive change in the death rate, and a drastic reduction on load on hospital capacity. Avoidance is still the best cure, but infection isn’t a death sentence, and we should stop acting like it is.

Cases grew in our county as it got colder, but deaths have shrunk to near-zero

I guess my point is, we live with risk all the time – but we still live. And in 2021, we’re resolved to (carefully, responsibly and thoughtfully) resume some living. Here’s how we made that work in the latter months of 2020:

For Thanksgiving this year, we stayed at a hotel with an attached water park. We’d been to this venue a couple years ago at the same time and learned that it is lightly attended during the holidays. Recent science indicates that virus particles don’t travel as well in warm, humid environments, and when we arrived, there were a grand total of 20 other people in the entire facility. We deemed the risk to be low, and the need for our kids to do something over the holiday to be high. As the second day wore on, the place got busier, so we left.

Next up was the wedding in Boston. The wedding party formed a “pod” where every attendee was tested for COVID-19 before arriving. Our own test was 3 days before we traveled, and we remained in isolation until the date of travel. Airports and well-ventilated airplanes were virtually empty, the State we traveled to has half the cases of our home State, and people were much more respectful of mask requirements than in Ohio. The entire wedding party stayed together in the same house – we were the only ones who stayed in a nearby hotel, and we avoided all contact with people outside the wedding party. More than 90% of our waking time was spent in the safety of the pod, the rest was in masks and socially distant.

Our final trip was to a nearby State park: we stayed in a private cabin, and the facility imposed a strict limit on the number of people in the pool in the main facility. At worst, we came into masked contact with 3 people, and non-masked contact never passed a threshold of 6-feet and only in humid environs.

In all cases, we weighed the potential outcomes, acted as carefully as the situation allowed, and traded some risk for some feeling of normalcy. We were also able to handle the consequences: we isolated when we returned, and we have a well-stocked HSA.

I realize that while the definition of pandemic means that it is global, interpretations of it are astoundingly local. I also realize that not everyone is in a position to select which risks are acceptable to them: I don’t have to go into work, Nicole is free to help the kids with school at home, and our church has been diligent about offering online worship. We can plan targeted events without fear that our daily lives will be impacted. But I guess I do assign some value to that freedom: we wouldn’t have it if we lived in Canada right now.

And maybe that’s one of the reasons travel is so important. We have this one context that we’ve been living in, and if that’s all you know, everything else seems foreign. In Grand Cayman, they locked down hard for 6 weeks, and have been living the rest of the year completely Covid free. Its hard to leave the island, and harder to get back, but that context is certainly foreign here in America – where we’ve just given up trying to beat this thing at all. New Zealand has beaten the virus twice, while Sweden’s grand herd immunity experiment proved to be a total disaster.

I don’t really know what conclusions to draw from this. But I do know that one of the happiest moments of 2020 was on the far side of a journey to Boston, where a little pod of people, who did the work to manage the risk and put the well-being of others first, were able to gather together and celebrate the marriage of two people we all loved. And I know that all the verbs in that last sentence are important things that we need to include in 2021…

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