Opinion: Holiday Traditions, Gatherings Are Not More Important Than Lives

Updated: Oct 18, 2021

The winter holiday season is approaching as rapidly as the cases of COVID-19 are rising worldwide. As Christmas, Hanukkah, and Kwanza draw near, many citizens are making plans to gather and celebrate with their families. Family relationships should be about prioritizing each others’ health and well being. By getting together in large numbers during a pandemic, the very principle of joy and good health during the holidays is diminished.

Although maintaining family relationships is important, it’s not an excuse to host or attend large holiday events and gatherings at the expense of others’ health.

On Nov. 19, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) advised people to refrain from traveling for Thanksgiving and to celebrate with the people they live with instead. However, on Nov. 20, over one million people boarded a plane, directly defying the recommendations set to keep citizens healthy and restrict the spread of the virus. This was the first time that the number of air travelers was higher than that on March 16—the beginning of the coronavirus outbreak.

According to the Transportation Security Administration (TSA), more than three million people traveled through U.S. airports between Nov. 20 and Nov. 22. As of Wednesday, Nov. 25, about seven to 10 million travelers passed through TSA checkpoints, a number 22% higher than the previous week.

Around this time, videos and pictures of airport gates and terminals began appearing all over Twitter. Some airports were very crowded, while others were not so much. Anthony Fauci, the director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said he was more concerned about the risks from a crowded airport than being on a plane.

The American Automobile Association (AAA) estimated that about 50 million people decided to travel over the Thanksgiving holiday, with an estimated 95% of those choosing to travel by car.

Regardless of the statistics for travelers being lower than from the year before, the number of people traveling all at once to be with family across the country and even the world is still massive. Certain states have a higher infection count than others, and traveling to other parts of the country would cause the virus to be spread even more.

As of early Tuesday, Nov. 24, over 12.4 million people have been infected across the U.S., and more than 257,700 people have died, according to data from Johns Hopkins University.

That number has only risen since then and is expected to increase further. Experts are predicting a widespread surge of cases following the mass amounts of Thanksgiving traveling nationwide. And although these experts are constantly urging people to stay home and follow safety precautions, large scale Christmastime travel is expected in the coming weeks.

According to the C.S. Mott Children’s Hospital National Poll on Children’s Health at Michigan Medicine, one in three parents say that the benefits of holding family gatherings during the holidays are worth the risk of spreading or contracting the virus.

Getting together with friends and family may sound appealing, but it can, unfortunately, lead to superspreader events. A superspreader event is considered to be one where a single person with the virus comes into contact with multiple other people, leading to unusually large clusters of cases.

Multiple states have indoor gathering limitations. For example, in Michigan, which has an average of 6.8 thousand coronavirus cases per day, social gatherings are limited to no more than 15 people indoors and 30 people outdoors through Dec. 16. In Massachusetts, indoor gatherings of 10 or fewer are permitted, and outdoor gatherings are limited to 25 people. And in Mississippi, gatherings of up to 10 people are permitted indoors, and up to 20 people outdoors.

According to the Pew Research Center in 2012, many people expected at least 20 people at the Thanksgiving table. Whereas this would have been okay in 2012, or even in 2019, gatherings of this nature may incite more coronavirus cases, which will devastate the U.S. As of Wednesday, Dec. 2, there have been over 100,000 hospitalizations, which is the highest number yet recorded.

Seeing family in person and traveling during a worldwide pandemic is not worth it. There are safer alternatives to virtually “see” family this year, such as video calls through Zoom, FaceTime, Skype, and other virtual communication platforms. Keeping safe and complying with restrictions now will allow future gatherings with friends and loved ones, without the worry of catching a disease that has infected more than 64 million people and killed over 1.4 million people worldwide.

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