I Am Experiencing ‘Risk Assessment Fatigue’

by Alicia Stein
Originally Published: 

After spending every holiday in 2020 alone with our little family, I thought we’d finally figured out a COVID-safe plan to get together with extended family this Thanksgiving.

All of us—me, my husband, our teenager, my mother, my in-laws, my husband’s siblings and spouses—would be fully vaccinated. Well, all except our nine-year-old, who would be a few weeks past his first dose of vaccine.

Of course, vaccines aren’t enough to protect from transmission, so our plan was to be extra careful the week before Thanksgiving. We could go to school, work, and the grocery store, but always with a mask. No unmasked socializing with anyone outside our immediate family in the days leading up to Thanksgiving.

Then, on the morning of Thanksgiving, everyone would take an at-home rapid test to be safe.

Everyone was on board, including me. I thought everything would be fiiiiiiine.

That is, until my mother (who is even more COVID risk averse than me, if that’s even possible) called me. She’s seen on social media that one of the attendees of our Thanksgiving get together was planning on going to a concert one week before our get together.

The concert was in a bar/restaurant establishment. Questionable mask usage, for sure. Yes, this person was vaccinated, but you know… I assured my mom that this was a week before the event, and that this person had agreed to not attend any more unmasked events after this one (I had verified this). But my mom was still nervous. Our youngest son (who has asthma) wouldn’t be fully vaccinated yet, she reminded me.

When I got off the phone, I looked at the calendar. There would be six full days between the day this person attended this concert and the day we met up for Thanksgiving. I started frantically looking up incubation periods for COVID (Is it different for Delta?! Could a rapid test be able to pick up any infection by then?). I started messaging my friend who is a doctor for advice.

Then I sat down on the couch and cried. Like, big, huge pathetic, miserable heaving sobs. “I just fucking can’t do this anymore,” I said out loud.

I am so tired. So goddamn tired. This pandemic has been going on for almost 20 months, and I don’t think there has been a week, or maybe even a day, when I haven’t had to do some amount of risk assessment.

I’m tired of having to analyze every little thing our family does. I’m tired of trying to figure out the risk level in every situation, and weigh that against the benefits each risk would have for our family.

I remember early in the pandemic, not even being sure if it was safe for my kids to walk around in the hallways of our apartment building, or play in our shared backyard. After lockdown, things became even more confusing. I spent the entire summer before September 2020 trying to decide if I should send my kids back to school. I spent the entire summer of 2021 doing the same damn thing.

In between, I had to consider things like playdates (masked, even outside? inside with masks okay?), birthday parties, family get together, trips to urgent care, etc. What about when the COVID numbers go up? Do we still feel okay about getting our teeth cleaned at the dentist? What about when the vaccines seemed to be less effective at stopping transmission? Should we still hang out unmasked with the grandparents?

I’m tired of staring at all those charts and graphs that rank different activities by risks. I’m tired of making the big decisions. I’m tired of making all the little decisions. I’m tired of constantly having to weigh my kids’ and my family’s mental health against things like possibly contracting a deadly disease or transmitting that deadly disease to someone else.

Obviously, things were particularly hard when no one was vaccinated. But even as we’ve become vaccinated, things have been difficult and confusing. For six months, all of us except my younger son have been vaccinated, and we have basically been as careful as ever, because the last thing one of us wants is to bring the virus home to him. He’s been hospitalized in the past with serious asthma attacks.

Even when he’s fully vaccinated, I’m not sure to what extent the decision making will get easier. COVID isn’t something any of us want to get, even as a breakthrough infection. Just the idea of having to be out of school or work for 10 days sounds terrible, especially if we all catch it and our quarantine times are staggered. Not to mention that fact that we’d have to worry about whether we exposed anyone else, especially a vulnerable person. And what about long COVID? I don’t want to risk getting that.

The worst part is that so many of these decisions rest on my shoulders. My husband cares, yes. He is happy to follow all the guidelines and pretty much agrees with all the decisions I make. But I make them all. All. Of. Them. I’ve always been the one to make health related decisions for our family. It’s just how things work around here.

I hate it. I’m overwhelmed. I’m numb. I feel like lately it’s been harder for me to make other, basic, non-pandemic decisions. Should I order take-out tonight, or spend that money on a fancier holiday gift for one of my sons? I don’t freaking know. Which new Netflix show should I watch while riding my exercise bike tomorrow morning? I’d honestly rather stab my eyes out than decide.

So here I am. My risk assessment fatigue is at an astronomical high. Everything related to the pandemic, and life in general, is making me cry. I know I’m not alone, at least. So many parents (mostly moms, ahem), I know are going through this too. That makes it sting a little less. But it still totally sucks.

Can someone wake me up when the pandemic is over? Until then, can someone else assess all of these risks and make the decisions for me? Please and thank you.

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