Update: Zoom said earlier this week it would lift its standard 40-minute limit on free video chats for Thanksgiving Day to make it easier to spend time with friends and family virtually on the US holiday. Given spikes in COVID-19 cases nationwide and various new and existing restrictions on interstate travel, this year’s Thanksgiving will be an unprecedented affair likely involving a mix of in-person and virtual hangouts using videoconferencing software like Zoom. Planning a Zoom Thanksgiving? Here's what you need to know.
Those of you who know my husband Ed also know that he's pretty unflappable. Unlike me, he doesn't go off like a Roman candle when something ticks him off. So when he came out to our backyard office two days ago and announced that he was really angry and upset, I sat up and took notice. He'd been listening to NPR while pursuing a little after-lunch downtime, and the first-person report that he'd heard from a nurse currently working somewhere in the Midwest had left him in a state of acute distress. She spoke about the COVID-19 patients she was seeing, the ones who were coming in sick, some of them very sick, and what they said to her. A common thread among them, particularly among those who had just learned that they needed to be put on a ventilator, was that until then they "didn't know COVID was real". They wished that they'd taken it more seriously and that they'd worn a mask. Most of them were in their 40s and 50s. But she also heard from the families of older patients, now regretting they had not done more to keep their family members safe. Between the lines, it boiled down to the same damned litany: they hadn't known; they hadn't realized, and on and on.
Ed was seething. I launched a few verbal grenades. Where on Earth have all these people been? How could they be so clueless, so stupid? And, inevitably, where and in what other circumstances have sectors of the human population said these same damned things before? But that's not the real point, is it? It's no help to dump on Midwesterners (my parents both came from the Midwest), or on those who made excuses in the wake of other times. As humans, we all know the wretched, butt-covering, fearful, and ashamed urge to make excuses for what we've done and what we haven't done. I certainly know it.
But here's the deal. We live right here, right now, in this moment. And we have choices. We know what we all need to do to slow the surge, to keep our hospitals from being overwhelmed and our frontline workers from being exposed unnecessarily in the weeks ahead, to keep as many people safe as possible and to limit--as much as possible--the numbers who will die, and, yes, to keep our economy going as best we can. These may not be the things we want to do, with the holidays approaching and family traditions breathing down our necks, but they're not rocket science either. First, the basics: please maintain physical distance from non-members of your household; wear a mask when you're "out" in public (always when indoors, and outdoors when it may be tricky to maintain physical distance), and keep washing your hands. The mantra "Don't share your air!" is good to keep in mind. Beyond these basics, consider your holiday activities with an eye to promoting mutual safety. Plan a Zooxm (or Facetime, etc.) Thanksgiving. Not perfect, but think positive: you can see each other; share updates, anecdotes, even routine arguments if you want, without having to sort out clean-up duty or who gets the leftovers! If you're an avid shopper, swear off the Black Friday crowds this time. (And, shopper or not, please try to avoid large gatherings altogether.) They are almost certain to be Super Spreaders. The greatest gift you can give to anyone (including yourself) this year is concern for their health, and you can add to it some post-Thanksgiving gratitude that we're in this together and looking out for each other. And if you become ill with what could be a cold, the flu, or Something Else, stay home--unless you need to see a doctor or have reason to believe that you ought to be tested for COVID. Quarantine time if you think you've been exposed is 14 days.
Numbers in Los Angeles County, which never dropped sufficiently to remove it from the most restrictive tier, are again rising, and Orange County’s recent surge in cases has dropped it into the purple. Hospitalizations are going up in both counties, putting pressure on the available number of ICU beds. Deaths are beginning to creep up too. Remember that there's a lag time between these numbers; they don't occur simultaneously but in succession. They will get worse no matter what, but we can still mitigate how bad they get by what we do now. Remember too that this is not a binary choice between the virus and the economy. For now, the virus calls the shots, and we must deal with it if we hope to keep the economy, somehow, going. The challenge to us is real, and it is serious. But I would argue, finally, that this is not a time for fear or for despair. We know what needs to be done, and we know that we can do these things if we so choose. We are not powerless.
Stay safe, keep well, and spread the word.
Helen and Ed Maurer are longtime members of the Sierra Club. Their daughter works as a respiratory therapist in a major hospital. Helen manages an email list of hikers to whom she would normally send weekly notices of the Orange County Group’s Wednesday hikes. Although the pandemic put out hikes on hold, she has continued to send very occasional messages to the list, mostly concerning COVID-19. This one went out on November 14; it has since been slightly altered for this publication.