Thoughts About Thanksgiving
When my grandkids were little, they loved to blow bubbles. Whenever we visited the three Indiana grandchildren, weather permitting, we brought bubbles for them to play with on their back deck. The combination of excitement and sibling rivalry often resulted in their bubble streams crashing into each other, some bubbles merging with others to create very large bubbles or bubble clusters while other bubbles burst under the onslaught.
The notion of Covid bubbles strikes me as similar. The members of your bubble of safe people also include all of the people they have in their bubble. The numbers add up. It’s much more exposure than you think you have. A friend of ours, a retired physician lecturing other medical professionals about Covid bubbles, shared this illustration with us, contrasting the bubble you think you have, basically your nuclear family, with other bubbles that envelop members of your family. As the picture indicates, one contagious person a few bubbles away can burst into your bubble.
Farhad Manjoo discussed this phenomenon in The Contacts of My Contacts (New York Times, November 22, 2020). He explained why getting together with anyone outside of your immediate household for Thanksgiving is rolling the dice for catching or transmitting Covid-19. It you travel to do this, your odds of giving or receiving this potentially deadly virus are even greater. And yet, he tries to balance this risk with the hardship the pandemic has imposed on his parents by keeping them from seeing their grandchildren for so long. I totally get it. We haven’t seen our grandsons in Boston since December and the group in Indiana since March 8.
Manjoo contact-traced himself — “an exercise that ended up being nearly as vulgar as it sounds. I went to all of my regular close contacts, then I went to all of their contacts, and so on, asking everyone about their potential exposure to the virus. What I found floored me.”
His two kids are in leaning pods with seven other children and his daughter attends a weekly gymnastics class. Including his children’s bubbles brought his up to 40. But when he considered that some children his kids had contact with had younger siblings in childcare, and one had a mother who was a doctor who saw ten patients/week, the Manjoo family bubble was now up to 100 people.
What seemed like a bubble of a family of four merged with other bubbles to make a visit the grandparents for Thanksgiving somewhat risky. And yet, the others in the bubbles were careful, the author and his family would quarantine and get tested on both ends of their visit, the drive was only five hours, and they could visit outdoors for a socially distanced, hopefully hug-free Thanksgiving gathering for seven. They could stay overnight in the area, but not in the grandparents’ home, and drive back the next day. Manjoo considered all of the risks and decided it was still worth gambling that the visit would be a safe one.
I must admit that initially I was surprised by the author’s decision. I shouldn’t have been. Many of my friends, seniors all, have taken far more risks than my husband and I have taken. They visit indoors with their children, grandchildren, friends, and relatives. They shop in big box stores. They let people into their homes who have also visited in other people’s homes.
On the other hand, we have not been “strictly kosher” about this. If something breaks, we let the repair person in. Our cleaner comes twice a month. We have gone to markets and drug stores on occasion. My husband joined a masked stranger on the elevator in our building because he was too impatient to wait for the next one. Before the cold set in, I visited in my friend’s backyard ten feet apart with no masks. My husband and I have both gotten haircuts. We visited our in-town grandkids socially distanced outside, more recently with everyone masked. Not hugging is so hard. I get it.
The point is, our bubbles are bigger than we suspect they are, even when we think we are being extraordinarily careful. When I sit down to a Thanksgiving dinner for two with my husband, I know I will feel jealous of the Manjoo grandparents. But I’m not going to blame anyone for the decisions they make as long as they have taken the time to consider all of the risks and follow precautions to ensure the safety of others.