For eight months now, six of us have been meeting every Saturday evening for happy hour and lively conversation. There have been occasional interruptions, but only a few, and the surprising part is that before COVID we got together far less often, letting busy lives and social calendars rule the day.
Now we’ve coalesced into a vital pandemic support group, propping each other up during times of loneliness and anxiety, sharing book and TV reviews, talking politics, and popping bottles of champagne on a certain recent Saturday when we had real cause for celebration.
It’s been fun and it all has happened in a sterile virtual Zoom environment.
Let me be clear, this is not the same as hugging my grandchildren or sitting around a table and sharing a meal together. But it has been surprisingly sustaining.
It’s a touchstone of intimacy and friendship at a time when everything is wildly out of control. It’s a lifeline when we’re all just human flotsam bobbing in the turbulent waves of the pandemic.
Which brings us to Thanksgiving.
Talk about turbulence. People who have been vigilant about COVID precautions are suddenly roiling little bundles of emotional turmoil as the holiday approaches. They’re losing it.
Pandemic fatigue is real and has reached epidemic proportions just as we are facing the holiday season when families travel over the river and through the woods to mix multiple generations, eat candied yams with toasted marshmallows, and shed virus particles with reckless abandon.
Even in a normal pre-COVID holiday season, family get-togethers provide ideal environments for spreading the flu, a disease that killed 34,000 Americans last year and about 60,000 Americans in the 2017-18 flu season, despite the availability of safe and effective vaccines.
This year while we have the flu circulating, we also have the far deadlier COVID-19 virus, which has claimed more than 240,000 Americans so far – and that’s during a period when the travel industry has all but collapsed and, except for the White House and frat boys, most people have limited their interactions to the occasional lawn chair-in-the-driveway gathering or walks in the park.
Now, Colorado is experiencing its highest case counts and hospitalizations since the pandemic began. ICU capacity is dangerously close to maxing out.
School districts, tallying spikes in the numbers of cases among students, teachers and their communities, are sending the kids home for remote learning.
Denver has ordered a 10 p.m. curfew.
The virus is so widespread, contact tracing is all but impossible.
Still, as Gov. Jared Polis told The Sun last week, a statewide lockdown is not happening.
We know what we need to do to control the outbreak, he said. We’ve all learned a lot since March.
“Look, if the Convention Center is filling up and there’s not enough beds, then we simply look at the lesser of two evils and the calculation might change,” he said. “Certainly, I share the goal with everybody in Colorado to avoid a lockdown, really, however we can.”
And despite all of that, in the face of the prospect of a long dark winter with only Netflix and Zoom to keep us company, a whole lot of folks are looking at the holidays and just saying, “Fork it.”
They’re busting out of their safe pandemic bubbles, welcoming the kids from places near and far, and planning a joyous orgy of overeating and viral transmission.
United Airlines has added 1,400 flights to accommodate the increased holiday demand, anticipating the highest passenger numbers since the pandemic began in March. JetBlue and other airlines are also adding flights and filling seats.
Jonesing for a real family gathering, people everywhere have decided that the risk – though higher than ever – is acceptable.
Even if they know they’re being irrational.
As they watch the scene playing before their eyes, health experts are bracing for an avalanche.
The Colorado Association of Public Health Directors is pleading with the governor to impose stricter limits on public interaction immediately. In a Nov. 5 letter, the association said, “Cases are increasing at an alarming rate. Contact tracing and investigation capacity is tapped. Hospitalization rates are at an all-time high since the pandemic began and are projected to exceed capacity by year’s end.”
As Anthony Fauci has said, “All the stars are aligned in the wrong place as you go into the fall and winter season, with people congregating at home indoors. You could not possibly be positioned more poorly.
“We’re in for a whole lot of hurt.”
COVID is out of control. Remember those phony death panels Sarah Palin was talking about a decade ago? They’ll be real if we run out of hospital beds.
So, instead of a throw-caution-to-the-wind Thanksgiving blowout, I’m going to start planning a fabulous post-pandemic, post-vaccination family vacation to look forward to somewhere wonderful with beaches, umbrella drinks and a blissfully clear conscience.
In the meantime, Thanksgiving day for us will bring a lawn chair-in-the-driveway gathering, a walk in the park or, if the weather is just too inhospitable, a Zoom celebration with pumpkin pie and spray-can whipped cream fights.
It will have to be good enough.
Because I don’t know about you, but a turkey dinner with my kids, lovely as that would be, is not worth dying for.
Diane Carman is a Denver communications consultant.