Spread Cheer, Not Germs


James Emery

Christmas stockings and presents surround a lit up Christmas tree.

As Thanksgiving passed in the midst of the COVID-19 pandemic, horror stories emerged. A college student comes home to stay with his family. He joins his grandparents for a formal Thanksgiving dinner, but is unaware he’s carrying COVID-19. The virus spreads not only to his parents and siblings, but also his high-risk grandparents, and one of them has to be hospitalized.

The truth is, that story and similar ones have already happened across Iowa. According to calculations by the Iowa City Press Citizen, if you attend a gathering of 10 people in Henry County you have a 54% chance of being exposed to COVID-19. The same study places Linn and Johnson County at 14%. While it is not a guarantee, it is not worth the risk. The numbers have decreased since Thanksgiving, so now is the time to stay cautious.

The holiday season draws closer as the pandemic worsens, and group celebrations are still happening. We are now staring the same monster in the eye, yet again. We cannot allow our failures at Thanksgiving to repeat themselves. Large group celebrations with our friends and extended families need to be put on hold. We have no choice but to be proactive this holiday season.

We are nine months into the pandemic. While the rules for social gatherings are different from previous years, we’ve worked with them for too long to continue making excuses. The risks of large gatherings are known and the negative effects on the people around us are obvious.

Despite all the horror stories we know could and have happened, we are still being pressured by friends and family to attend large gatherings. This only adds another hurdle to the tasks of social distancing, sanitizing and limiting physical contact. 

Since the majority of large gatherings happen within families, masks are not always encouraged. In my case, mask-wearers are openly mocked for being afraid to take off their masks or being perfect rule-followers. When my family has come together during the pandemic, I’ve made sure to wear a face mask over my mouth and nose. Some of my family members pestered me about keeping my mask on or asked me why I’d wear one for a family occasion.

We have to understand that DNA is not an effective measure for keeping COVID-19 at bay. The virus can spread through relatives as efficiently as anyone. Friends and family should not be pressuring each other to avoid taking proper COVID-19 precautions.

We are all experiencing this pandemic. We all feel its effects every day. Though we want to unite and celebrate together during the holidays, it is better to keep ourselves safe by celebrating from a distance. We can still come together through food, gifts and spirit in a safe and respectful manner.

I am celebrating the holidays by myself. I will be alone, in my home. It may seem lonely, but I am not bothered by that. I would rather keep myself and others safe than give in to the pressure to attend a big family gathering. 

To the family members who have respected my precautions, I thank you. And to those who are feeling pressured just as I am, your feelings are valid. We can sit at home and cozy up with a warm blanket, hot cocoa and watch “The Grinch”. This is how we will celebrate together: safely, and from a distance.