Opinion: Family holiday plans bring COVID-19 risk and tough choices

Brendan Clarey
The Detroit News

My wife and I socially distanced for the greater part of this year. Then we were infected with COVID-19 last month while visiting family.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer last week implored Michigan residents to cancel their holiday plans, and I know from experience the question we're all asking ourselves while making plans this holiday season: Is it worth the risk?

In the beginning of the pandemic, my then-pregnant wife and I followed all the medical advice from her doctors strictly. If we saw friends, they were at least six feet away, and we were always outside.

Gov. Gretchen Whitmer implored Michigan residents last week to cancel holiday plans, Clarey writes.

In June, we asked family members in our bubble to stay away from their friends or visit them outdoors. My teenage sisters-in-law sacrificed sleepovers and hangouts to keep my wife and unborn child safe. 

To see family outside our bubble, we stayed outdoors and six feet away. No hugs. No touching.

To attend a friend’s tiny, outdoor, COVID-friendly wedding, my wife and I camped out in my parents’ backyard to avoid breathing their air in case they were asymptomatic but infectious.

Did I mention my wife was eight months pregnant and it was August?

Leading up to our baby’s due date, we decided that, to us, it was worth the risk to invite a few family members into our bubble. As much as we anticipated needing help with changing diapers and household chores, we knew their emotional support and physical presence would be even more crucial to our well-being.

Then, last month, we ended up catching the coronavirus on a family visit. It was a terrible week. I wish that our 6-week-old child never had a fever. And I wish my wife and other family members didn’t have to go through the list of symptoms we’re all very familiar with by now.

Thankfully, we are all recovered now (except my wife still can't smell). I thank God that no one was hospitalized or seriously ill as so many have been throughout this pandemic. We recognize this disease has taken many lives, and we were blessed to have had relatively mild cases. 

Everyone is going to have to make tough decisions about spending time with those they love this holiday season. They might heed Whitmer's advice and wait until next year, or decide that seeing family was worth the risk. 

Despite what happened, I don’t regret our decision to see family and benefit from being close to them, especially after missing them for months and months while we lived in fear and social isolation.

Was it the wrong call? Was it worth the risk?

I don't know. Maybe this holiday season, we will all have to do the best we can without the answers. 

Brendan Clarey is an editorial fellow at The Detroit News.


Twitter: @BrendanClarey