Until October, it had been possible for residents of New England to believe that the pandemic was being managed if not controlled. Mask-wearing remains quite the norm here — which has been a good thing — and with a few exceptions the regional universities have excelled at bringing back students without triggering serious covid-19 flare-ups. Restaurants had adapted to outdoor seating, and it was occasionally possible to experience a kind of quasi-normality in going out. Over the summer and early fall we were able to see close relatives for a family vacation. We could gather outside with friends and share a meal from a proper social distance.
As the weather has turned cold, however, so has the outlook. Pick a metric — numbers of infected or wastewater data — and the situation has worsened in the Bay State. Nor is the situation likely to improve anytime soon. The colder weather is forcing more interactions to be indoors, and that is the surefire way to increase the spread of the coronavirus. Last month’s predictions about the virus in winter seem to be coming true.
What is also increasingly clear is that help is not on the way anytime soon. Regardless of the election outcome next week, Donald Trump will continue to be president at least until January 2021. The White House might be happy to declare that the Trump administration has “ended” covid-19, but even Trump’s scientists know that this is a crock.
The same is true with the vaccines, which have run into predictable delays and stumbling blocks with the Phase 3 tests. One recent Politico story by Sarah Owermohle concluded, “vaccine development is a long, complicated process that doesn’t stick to political deadlines. Despite the government and drug companies pumping billions of dollars into the vaccine race, getting shots into trials faster than ever before, and enrolling tens of thousands of volunteers in studies, a Covid-19 vaccine could still be months away.” Last month the Atlantic’s James Hamblin concluded: “The cold reality is that we should plan for a winter in which vaccination is not part of our lives.”
With those facts on the ground, my family and I have been forced into some depressing choices. Halloween is my daughter’s favorite holiday, but in the end we have explained to her why going trick-or-treating is probably a bad idea this year. We have already purchased a table where we can put candy at a social distance from our door for those children who are going out this year (also, screw it, this year we bought the full-size chocolate bars).
Even with a socially distant Halloween, my neighborhood’s creativity with decorations has made my afternoon perambulations more enjoyable. It is Thanksgiving, however, that will be the real gut punch. Both Anthony S. Fauci and Gov. Charlie Baker have recommended against holding any kind of normal Thanksgiving meal with friends or family beyond our household.
After much agonizing deliberation, my family has reluctantly decided to follow that advice. We do not want to imperil our parents’ health. But make no mistake, this hurts. Thanksgiving has always been my favorite holiday. Any holiday that includes large amounts of food and family is a good thing. As a Jewish kid I liked the fact that, in contrast to Christmas, we got to participate in all the rituals.
As a Jewish adult I have discovered that my mother’s DNA is strong in me, which means that I enjoy hosting and cooking for large numbers of people. In my memory, Thanksgiving was always a warm holiday right before it started to get really cold. This year, not even my college-age son will be able to attend out of an abundance of caution.
The pandemic right now feels like a pre-GPS car ride to a new destination with fuzzy directions. Those trips always seemed longer than they actually were because, right up until the journey ended, it felt like it could go on indefinitely. It is not the most upbeat feeling, to be quite honest.
When this pandemic started, I wrote, “My biggest fear right now is not getting the virus. It is the thought that there will never be another day when I am not angry.” As winter approaches, that anger is still with me. But I can feel the kind of sadness that leads to depression lurking in the background.