The holiday season fast approaches. Any normal year, this is the time we wind down our nomad travels and seek the comforts of time with family.
But as we all know, this is no normal year. Because of that, we’ve chosen to spend our holidays away from those we love.
I’m not an alarmist. And I don’t seek my answers in matters of health and safety from political pundits. I have my own biases, certainly. But when it comes to critically evaluating information, I seek the truth.
Truth is, I can’t go home.
Where was it? Our cozy palace on wheels? Or my old neighborhood where, as a boy, I’d romp through the creek and climb the massive cottonwood in our backyard?
My wife and I planned to return to our families for Thanksgiving. Both of our parents live within twenty minutes of each other with plenty of relatives and friends in between. Holidays have always been an exciting, but exhausting, shuttle from household to household. Plenty of love and pie to go around.
We’ll miss them this year. (Family and the pies. Family most.)
The reality is my boyhood home is a place under silent siege. Multiple sources, including the county health department, the Mayo Clinic, John Hopkins Coronavirus Resource Center, and this informative Covid Risk level assessment from Brown School of Public Health, report that location to be a high-risk zone. County, city, and national health advice recommend close contact with only household members or the enactment of stay-at-home orders.
Throughout the American Midwest, most won’t heed the advice, even as the virus creeps inland. In some cases, I understand. Others?
Science and rational precaution have been turned into a political football. Half the nation has become distrustful of anything but the word of a failed real estate developer turned reality TV star. The rest cower away from lasting change under a career politician trying to ensure the survival of his fracturing party.
Truth? Is it even a consideration anymore?
I often joke my philosophy degree is useless. In the Misinformation Age, it has proven invaluable. As an investigator, I learned to search for facts, not speculation or opinion. The firehose of information available today dazes most people and t cling to the first, most familiar thing. I dig around. Research. Study. Evaluate.
What’s true is COVID-19 isn’t the flu. I’ll be damned if I sit and listen to that claim one more time.
Death rates for COVID are estimated to be six times greater than influenza. Given our relative control over the flu, even this figure is a distinctly small number – less than one percent. Because of this, many dismiss the urgency.
But that tiny figure extrapolated out to a larger population with no vaccine? Death tolls quickly add up to hundreds of thousands. Flu deaths last season? Sixty two thousand, at most, from tens of millions of cases.
In the demographic of our parents, those alarming death rates skyrocket. According to the CDC, compared to 18 to 29 year olds (their baseline comparison group), individuals from 65 to 74 are 5 times more likely to be hospitalized and 90 times more likely to die.
Does this mean you’ll ever even know somebody who dies of COVID? Statistically, probably not.
But they don’t count any less because you didn’t watch them die with your own eyes. Or because you happen to know others who survived (as statistics say they will). Those hundreds of thousands already dead are someone’s father, someone’s mother, someone’s family who won’t see another holiday.
The precautions you take in public should be exactly what you would do to protect your own family.
For me? That’s damn near anything.
Throughout the country, a highly politicized framework encourages many people to not even take basic precautions. Wear a mask and you are the victim of a totalitarian conspiracy. Social distance? You’re just another sheeple.
Practicing those false beliefs fulfills their prophecy. As those people continue to spread the virus and hospitals fill and testing sites report ever higher numbers, communities have little choice but to pursue more aggressive containment strategies.
Lockdowns commence. The ones who failed to take the basic precautions seriously then decry the heavy-handed actions of their government.
And that’s the unsettling sea where my wife and I are adrift.
Nomads on a forced tour of the country’s hotspots, unsure of our status, unsure of how long our families will be protected inside a rapidly deteriorating situation. Going home to link their separate, and hopefully socially isolated family units, isn’t something we’re willing to do.
We discussed alternatives. Quarantine between visits to their houses. Splitting up to see each respective side. The logistics and maneuvering kept leading back to one answer – the absolute safest thing for our family is to remain distanced.
I admit, there are no guarantees in life. I can’t keep the ones I love alive, forever. But I don’t gamble with other’s lives. Especially those I love.
The vitriol in this country has tried to transform this decision into a strictly personal choice. That by ignoring the advice of the medical community, you only put yourself at risk, nobody else. It’s a selfish, heartless indictment of what we have become. What we should strive our best to never be again.
At my boyhood home, the cottonwood tree has long since been cut down. Houses continue to encroach on the creek. But it’s a place I’ll do everything I can to keep safe, even if it means staying away for a little while longer.