To visit or not to visit?
Awkward COVID family decisions
The public health orders are clear: Stay. At. Home.
Your mom’s voicemail is also clear: Visit. Me. Now.
My family managed two fun and relaxing visits during the height of the pandemic. We weighed the risks, took precautions, and enjoyed some quality time. Let’s be 100% clear: it was risky every time we gathered with someone. On the other hand, even MIT organized pods of friends that could get together, and with the proper precautions, we can mitigate the risk of social interactions while fulfilling some of our social needs.
In June 2020, I was invited to a fishing trip in Arkansas with my family. I had a tough time making the decision about whether to go, so my first step was to get more information. For example, I needed to know if we would be staying in a crowded hotel or a secluded lodge. I also wanted to make sure we wouldn’t eat at restaurants (as Arkansas had practically no restrictions at that time). When I realized that the days would be spent on a fishing boat and the evenings in the cabin, I decided it would be ok to take this trip. I didn’t want to get on an airplane, so my husband and I drove to whole way. It was exhausting to drive so far, but it really was the safest option. Although it was not a full-proof precaution, we also got tested a few days before the trip. We realized that the test is only a snapshot and didn’t guarantee that we were infection-free. We supplemented the test by being “extra safe” in the two weeks leading up the trip: no socially-distanced picnics in the park with friends, limited grocery shopping, and overall limited outside interaction. In the end, we enjoyed a much-needed vacation! It was so fun to just go fishing, cook in the cabin, and drive around the countryside. When we returned home, we quarantined for 14 days.
For the first half of the quarantine, I felt mostly content. We could recover from the stress of traveling, do laundry, get caught up on work, etc. But the second week just seemed to drag on forever. There are only so many at-home activities you can do! Logistically, I have a few staples for my time spent in quarantine. Before the trip, I make sure to have a big meal plan and have all the necessary ingredients in the pantry. I always have an emergency pizza in the freezer too! It’s hard to have fresh fruits & vegetables if you don’t go grocery shopping for two weeks. So instead I stock up on canned fruit, frozen veggies, and a big bottle of Naked Juice to ensure I can get some vitamins. If I run out of anything, and it’s toward the end of quarantine, I’ll do a grocery pick-up at our local store which is basically contactless. Overall, I felt that the trip was worth the quarantine and was a refreshing change of scenery. Thankfully, my work is 100% computational, so my work productivity wasn’t diminished either.
In September 2020, my in-laws wanted to visit. Gulp. I actually get along great with my in-laws, so the scary part was the COVID restrictions. They live in a state with fewer restrictions, so they were a little taken aback when I explained we wouldn’t be going to restaurants and masks were absolutely mandatory. I decided to put a positive twist on it and focus on all the things we could do. We couldn’t go to our favorite bar, but I could pick up a growler ahead of time for us to enjoy at the park. We couldn’t go to restaurants, but we could organize super fun picnics and go on hikes. We had amazing weather during their trip, and I can’t imagine a more memorable visit. We still laugh about getting so much exercise from hiking and swimming! In fact, we organized a hike every day. In the evenings, we either took our dinner as a picnic in the park or played board games at the house. I had also started a puzzle before they arrived, and we ended up spending many hours consumed by it. After they left, we quarantined again for 14 days.
I like to think of myself as a COVID-perfect person who hasn’t left the house in 300 days. But in reality, we are all doing our best with certain measured compromises to stay sane. I try not to feel guilty, but some of my friends are way more strict with their COVID protocols. As long as I quarantined, I couldn’t get anybody else sick, and that was the best way to make sure I didn’t feel guilty. We are thankful for the time we spent with family. It took some work to plan the vacations and the subsequent quarantine periods, and we had to have a few uncomfortable conversations to set the right expectations. Now, I am so happy that we can gather again thanks to vaccines. Although these days we may still need masks indoors, I’m looking forward to a future of just saying “yes” to family reunions – no conditions, no awkward “maybes”, just a wholehearted “yes!”.
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