Dr. Robin’s Covid-19 Updates

Keeping Covid Out of Your Holidays

Saying Yes to the Science and No to Big Gatherings

Photo by United Nations COVID-19 Response on Unsplash

Against the drumbeat of the election we have rising cases in much of the US and Europe. Like really rising. As in, Friday saw the most US cases ever — even more than in the spring.

In the spring, we didn’t understand a lot about this virus. We didn’t know how easily it could be spread from one person to another. We didn’t know it could be spread by asymptomatic people. We didn’t know a lot.

But on the other hand we did know some basic stuff about epidemics; things that are always true every time. You need to be able to test easily, with quick turn-arounds, to contact trace, to be able to isolate the infected and quarantine the contacts.

So we worked at that, at least on the local levels, while pouring government money into vaccines.

And in the meantime, the science accumulated. We learned more about how Covid spreads, and how and why it’s important to have six feet of physical distancing. We learned about how being with others inside was consistently less safe than the same activity outside and we re-learned lessons about hand-washing. We learned about the absolutely critical role of masking.

And the science continues to accumulate. A couple of helpful treatments have been discovered and now are standard of care. Vaccine development is real and will have an impact next year.

But in the meantime we still have to make day-to-day decisions about how to keep our loved ones safe, particularly during the upcoming holidays.

More and more people are listening to the science and making hard choices about Thanksgiving and Christmas and Hanukkah: the only way to be safer during the holidays is to not travel, to not congregate, to stay home, and to stay small.

For Thanksgiving, Tony Fauci is staying home. The director of the NIH is staying home. The president of the Massachusetts Medical Society is staying home. In fact, virtually all of my physician friends are staying home and everyone is having smaller gatherings.

They are doing this because the science is clear: one of the riskiest things we can do is eat inside with others.

Eating inside is a perfect storm for potential spread — when we are inside we by definition have more potential exposure (less virus blowing away, less dilution, less chance of being farther away from hosts) and we are more vulnerable to whatever adverse role aerosols and poor ventilation can play. On top of that when we eat we have to be unmasked and we are close together. And when we visit and dine together, we talk more, and quite probably, at least in my family, talk more loudly. Maybe yell.

Unfortunately, the science has shown us over and over and over that it is exactly these things — more exposure, being unmasked, more proximity, talking — that are truly the big risk factors for getting Covid.

The risk of getting Covid from eating together inside is bigger than the risk of getting it from touching a library book or walking down a sidewalk or going to the grocery store or even riding the train. And eating inside close up with other people is a hazard whether it’s at a restaurant or a bar or a coffee shop or your house. It’s all the same factors for increased risk.

This Halloween, I was really impressed with how people in my town listened to the science and decided their goal was to not have dozens of kids trick-or-treating on Aunt Petunia’s porch and inadvertently exhaling Covid-riddled droplets all over her.

Some people decided to stay home and have scavenger hunts or bubbled costume parades. Other came up with charming inventive ways to stay safely physically distanced but still giving candy — candy on clothes lines, candy chutes, throwing candy from the porch, sling shots, candy cannons, candy rain gutters. People figured it out.

We like to think we have a lot of control over our lives, but the reality is during all of history, outside events sometimes simply have huge impacts and sometimes there is nothing people can do but pivot. Thanksgiving was different after Katrina. The Fourth of July was different during the West Coast wildfires. Christmas was different during all the years of the Civil War and Hanukkah was certainly different during WWII.

Sometimes biology wins, a lesson I see over and over in the cancer clinic, and every single day during Covid. Sometimes we humans end up bowing to biology.

But science has saved us again and again. Science keeps the roofs on our buildings from crashing in on top of us. Science saves us from infectious diseases that filled the graveyards in the past. Science keeps our bridges from falling down into the rivers and planes from falling from the sky. Science keeps us out of the path of the hurricane or the wildfire. Science keeps me writing to you on this laptop. Science keeps our cars from driving off overpasses. Science keeps our food safe, keeps our kids safe, keeps us safe. Science is our miracle.

Science is going to save us here. It will. All Epidemics Always End; we just need to keep the science front and center to have this one end faster.

Somehow, despite all the miracles of science and the amazing gifts it brings us, we have ended up in an anti-science culture, with an anti-science administration. It is utterly perplexing to me why this has happened but that’s not what matters.

What matters is that this November we join a long line of people who say yes to keeping the science front and center, who adapt to the present, who listen to the past, and who look forward to the day when we get to talk about these defining events of our lives in the past tense.

{Robin Schoenthaler, MD is a Boston-based cancer doctor who has been writing straightforward fact-based no-blame-no-rumors-all-science-all-the-time essays about Covid-19 since March 2020.}

Covid-Translator. Cancer doc: ~Three decades at MGH. Writer and storyteller: Moth Grand Slam Champion. Mom. www.DrRobin.org, @robinshome, robinshome2@gmail.com

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