Lots of words that maybe prior to 2020 we rarely, if ever, used, are now pretty regular staples in our daily vernacular. “Quarantine“… “social distancing”… even “masks”—did you ever think you’d say “masks” so many times in one day?
And here’s another one that’s particularly relevant as we approach the holiday season. It’s a word that seems innocent enough—a child’s word really—but in 2020 can be deadly if misunderstood.
That word is bubble. And here’s why this word—a word that pre-pandemic made us think of bath time and playing outside with our toddlers—is so problematic.
If you asked 10 people what they were doing for the holidays this year, I’ll bet at least a few of them would say they’re hosting or gathering with a “small group” that is “safe” because “they’re in my bubble.”
We’ve learned through this exhausting COVID-19 adventure that hanging out with the same people we see every day, all day, is typically safe because we’re already sharing all the same airspace anyway. We’ve learned that as long as everyone in our “bubble” makes the same choices—wears masks, socially distances, washes hands often, etc., that we are far more likely to spare ourselves and our other bubble-residents from the virus.
That all makes sense.
The problem is that due to quarantine-fatigue and just a general “This shit sucks and I don’t want to deal with it anymore” mindset, many Americans have expanded their bubble beyond safe bubble limits. Because once you allow Grandma Jane, Uncle Paul, your cousin Mike and his wife and kids, and maybe your next door neighbor because “you see them all the time” into that bubble, guess what? That fucker popped, bruh. That’s why it’s called A BUBBLE. It’s fragile and once it’s popped, all the air from outside its membrane has come in.
Here’s what it means to spend Thanksgiving, safely, with those from your actual bubble: eating turkey and pumpkin pie with the people you live with. That’s it. Like literally, the people you sit next to on the couch, share a bathroom with, and eat your breakfast next to every morning. That’s your bubble.
Not your great-aunt Marie who lives 20 miles away. Not even if you see her frequently. Not even if you saw her last weekend. Auntie Marie is not in your bubble, just like grandparents, friends, neighbors, siblings, and cousins are not in your bubble. They need to say TF home with their own bubbles and eat their own turkey and pie at their own kitchen tables together and FaceTime you so that all of your bubbles stay intact.
Seriously, it’s a pandemic year, hundreds of thousands of Americans have died, and Auntie Marie could be next. So, stop getting self-righteous about “mah rights!” and start caring about keeping people safe.
“We’ve all gotten used to our bubbles, but I don’t think we’ve really asked whether someone who’s in our bubble is also in another person’s bubble,” Nirav Shah, director of the Center for Disease Control and Prevention in Maine explains. “People’s bubbles are getting big enough to burst.”
Listen, I get it. I’m used to seeing my extended family on Thanksgiving too. I’ve had to have hard, tearful conversations with my children’s grandparents in recent weeks as we brace for this bizarre upcoming holiday season. It’s hard to comprehend that this year, for the first time, we won’t be seeing any aunts, uncles, cousins, or grandparents as we stuff the turkey (and ourselves) with glorious deliciousness and drink too many cocktails.
But that’s the reality of 2020. As hard as it will be for Grandma to cut into her famous apple pie in a quiet kitchen all by herself, that’s precisely what we need to do to keep her, and us, safe.
As much as we want to put COVID on pause, sit around a feast, laugh, and retell our favorite childhood stories, like that time we fell in the lake in 7th grade, COVID doesn’t care. And, COVID is invisible—until it’s not. That means COVID could fly forth, out of your brother’s mouth (he doesn’t know yet that he picked it up at work), with gusto, as you all crack up remembering how Dad had to fish you all out of the lake and you all sat around shivering in towels, getting a lecture about how “WE DON’T PLAY ON THE DOCK.” It will then fly all around the room, attaching itself to Uncle Carl, who has a heart condition, to your sister who is pregnant, and to your nieces and nephews who will then take their newfound COVID germs back to their schools, back to their homes, back to their daycares, and back to their basketball and gymnastics and hockey teams.
And now, retelling that hilarious lake story over Thanksgiving dinner has become a means to spread COVID-19, all because your “bubble” was not really a bubble at all, but instead, a dangerous, infectious, life-risking germ-pit. Now, you’ve contributed to hospital and doctor overwhelm. You’ve made a choice that means more people will be infected, more people will be sick, more people will need testing, more people will need to isolate, miss work, and miss school, and more people will need medical attention from a healthcare system that’s on the brink of collapse because there are no more beds and no more doctors and no more ICU nurses left.
UC Davis Health warns Americans about the dangers of gathering for holidays this year as this pandemic surges, yet again. “COVID-19 doesn’t take holidays off,” said Natascha Tuznik, assistant clinical professor of infectious diseases and part of the UC Davis Health Travelers Clinic. “Actually, we’ve seen cases spike after every major holiday since the coronavirus pandemic began.”
And this time, rather than like the 4th of July for example, most people are gathering indoors, which is far more dangerous.
Tuznik goes on to give this advice, with regards to gathering for Thanksgiving and the winter holidays: “Don’t. At least, not in person. Not even in small groups. Keep it to your household and online visits with everyone else.”
“You’ll be eating and drinking so you won’t be wearing your mask all the time,” Tuznik goes on to say. “I can’t say this strongly enough: An indoor Thanksgiving dinner is a huge risk if you include anyone from outside your household.”
This sentiment is echoed by our favorite infectious disease expert (a phrase we never thought we’d say), Dr. Fauci, who warns, “You don’t want to be the Grinch that stole the holidays.”
(Or, to put it more bluntly, you don’t want to be the asshole who sends Uncle Steve to the ICU next week.)
Instead, we need to capitalize on the technology available to us in 2020 and use FaceTime, Zoom, Google Hangouts, Facebook Portals… or even call up Grandpa and talk on the phone like it’s 1995—as long as we enjoy Thanksgiving and the upcoming winter holidays in a way that keeps all of us healthy and safe. And part of that is acknowledging that unless he lives with us, no, Grandpa is not part of our bubble.
Think about it. Your next-door neighbor probably went to the grocery store to pick up a pie to bring. And her spouse goes to work in person everyday. Either of them could have picked up COVID, unknowingly, and will then bring it to your home. Your niece has a new boyfriend. They’re not social distancing because, teenagers. Sure, they’re both in virtual school, but the boyfriend’s dad still sneaks out to a bowling league once a week. He’s pretty sure it’s safe. But guess what? He picked up COVID there and doesn’t know it yet. Then he brought it home to his kid, who gave it to his girlfriend, who is now heading over to your house on Thanksgiving.
DO YOU SEE HOW THIS ISN’T A BUBBLE?
Remember, if we’ve learned anything about this virus, it’s that this thing travels fast and it travels silently.
Cities, counties, and states around the country, in seeing COVID-19 numbers continue to skyrocket, are implementing new guidelines for fighting the spread, especially during the holidays. And they’re not blaming large group gatherings anymore, as most of that’s been canceled. Instead, it’s Sunday afternoon football get-togethers and birthday parties and next week, the next big American holiday.
“Earlier in the outbreak, much of the growth in new daily cases was being driven by focal outbreaks — long-term care facilities, things of that nature,” said Dr. Shah. “Now, the kitchen table is a place of risk.”
Howard County, Maryland, has capped indoor gatherings at 10 people, The Washington Post reports. Austin-Travis County of Texas has implemented the same restriction according to KUT, Austin’s NPR news station. Hard-hit Oregon counties have limited the number to six. Because the truth is this—the bigger the number, the greater the risk, even if you think the family and friends you’ve invited have been making safe choices. The medical community and government leaders need us to do our part—celebrate with our own household only—so that they can do their part to stop the spread.
Don’t be the dick who spreads COVID-19 all because you couldn’t bear to break your Thanksgiving tradition during a pandemic. COVID doesn’t give a fuck about your traditions or how much you miss your cousins or how badly Nana wants to sneak your kids extra buttered rolls and whipped cream, even though you cut them off hours ago.
It could be Nana’s last Thanksgiving if she does, and you’ll have to live with that.