Let's Talk About Holidays and COVID
With the holidays fast approaching, I'm sure you've been evaluating how you're planning to celebrate with your families in an increasingly dangerous and out-of-control global pandemic. As cases are skyrocketing, holiday plans are hanging in the balance. Many are choosing to scale down or cancel all together. Maybe you have no intention of changing your Thanksgiving/Christmas plans to gather as usual. I'm writing this to urge to you reconsider.
My quarantine has pretty much been by the book since March. I live alone. I entertain myself by walking outside at a huge local park where there's never more than a handful of people. I haven't been inside a restaurant since March 10. I haven't been inside a building without a mask. I've worked out almost every single day and have lost over 20 pounds. I am healthy.
With all of that considered as the election drew closer, I felt a since of responsibility to take the place of what is typically an elderly poll worker. I wanted to help keep more polling locations open without putting those most at risk around hundreds of voters on election day. I volunteered in October, did my training, and was assigned to a nearby precinct.
My election judge couldn't find our PPE for most of the day, so we were in our own masks. I worked for 15 hours that day, coming into contact with around 300 people. I handled ballots, driver's licenses, passports, helped voters with the voting machines, etc. all day. The day went smoothly, or so I thought. I returned home to quarantine after the election understanding the risk I had just taken. I left my house only to walk at the park and once to go to the grocery store in the week following.
Thoughts of my own Thanksgiving started to swirl, and I reached out to my family. I had been safe, so maybe it would be okay to go enter their bubble. I'd be quarantined for more than two weeks. They had assured me the same safety measures. I spent the next week in a heated debate with myself. This image here about social bubbles never leaving my mind.
No matter how I sliced it, it felt deeply irresponsible to gather with them. Studies have shown that at least 40-to-50% of people who test positive for COVID-19 have no symptoms. There was no way for any of us to guarantee to each other that we'd be safe. I had been encouraged by friends and my family themselves that I deserved some happy time with my loved ones after months of isolation, but the guilt of even considering it was eating at me. I bargained with myself to get a test within the 14-day incubation period post-election and if it was negative, maybe I'd go. I got my results today.
I tested positive for COVID-19 eleven days after working the election. Yes, someone who has taken every precaution I've been instructed to take. Someone who has been literally called a "Covid Chicken" because my refusal to eat at restaurants, go out, or travel. I am an asymptomatic carrier of this virus. I could have unknowingly carried this virus to my family. To my elder aunt and uncle who might not be so lucky had they contracted it. You might be carrying the coronavirus RIGHT NOW and not know it. I cannot stress to you enough that just because you've been "safe," small gatherings inside homes are still a huge risk as cases and hospitalizations are growing at an astronomical rate. It is more dangerous now than it was when we were in full lockdown in March/April.
It takes an average of five days after exposure to COVID-19 for symptoms to show up (though it can take as long as 14 and possibly never will). I should also mention a negative test is also not a free pass to interact with people in high-risk situations. I highly encourage reading this article that details the coronavirus infection timeline.
This is not something I wanted to share publicly as the stigma around it involves carelessness/reckless behavior. As I've sat with it, I realized how important it is to showcase how you can play by the rules and sacrifice the things you want to do and still get it. It's incredibly pervasive and is at it's worst now and getting worse by the day. What we'll see into December and around Christmas is going to be unimaginable if people don't heed warnings now and stop gathering.
The safest way to hang out with your friends, family, or anyone else you don't currently live with is still to do so virtually. Zoom is suspending their 40-minute time limit on Thanksgiving so you can spend more time with your loved ones without interruption. That will be how I spend my holiday this year. I will be alone in my house with my dogs visiting my family and friends virtually. It's not ideal by a long shot, but I want to make sure I do my part so everyone I care about stays healthy and can gather safely next year. A vaccine is coming. Just hold on a little while longer. It'll be worth it. Wear a mask. Stay safe.