How on Earth Do We Manage the Holidays?

How to face the reality and make a plan

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental
Published in
5 min readOct 13, 2020

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Photo: Mark Liddell/Moment/Getty Images

Kristen Carpenter, PhD, comes from a big family in Michigan, and she hasn’t yet decided how to approach the holidays, which traditionally involve road trips for large gatherings. Carpenter, the chief psychologist in the department of psychiatry and behavioral health at the Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center, is keeping one eye on the rate of Covid-19 infections in Michigan and the other on the wishes and concerns of her far-flung family.

Whatever they decide to do or not do, “We’ve got to get a lot of people on board,” she says, pointing out that each of her relatives has their own risk threshold. Communicating with everyone about their desires and concerns, and being understanding of the differing comfort zones, is key, she says. “And that’s hard. It’s probably not just one conversation, but many. And the bigger the family, the tougher that gets.”

With Covid-19 cases rising and expected to approach or exceed the April peak in the fall, infectious-disease experts advise strongly against large holiday get-togethers.

“I’m not going to tell people not to have a family gathering, because mental health is important, especially now more than ever,” says epidemiologist Saskia Popescu, PhD, an assistant professor at George Mason University. “But I can’t in good conscience say, ‘Yeah, it’s okay to have a big one.’”

“There is no 100% safe way for two households to get together for the holidays in any area where Covid is circulating, which currently includes the entire United States.”

Popescu worries not just about the gatherings themselves, but the risks of getting there.

Airplanes have good ventilation and air filtering, she says, but you can’t control who sits near you. If one of those passengers is shedding virus, your risk rises with every hour onboard. Also, having flown for work during the pandemic, Popescu sees people avoiding airport restaurants and getting food to go, then eating at the crowded gates where there’s no physical distancing, or on the plane — maskless, of course.

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Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB