Dear Pandemic Problems,
Easter is around the corner and my extended family wants to get together to celebrate — unmasked. Seven of the fifteen people (from 6 different households) would be vaccinated. The remaining are 4 children and 4 unvaccinated adults.
No one in my household of four is vaccinated yet.
Because we've been extremely cautious, they are all comfortable with us attending. We've been with the unvaccinated household before (to keep our kids together) and they've seen all the other vaccinated family members. We have not. Until my family (or at least the adults) are all vaccinated, I am uncomfortable with a large Easter gathering. Am I being unreasonable?
Concerned Unvaccinated Family Member
Easter is a holiday that symbolizes rebirth, even if you're not Catholic. And legend has it that the Easter Bunny lays, decorates and hides its eggs, bringing in new life for spring. So it makes sense in a time where we've been surrounded by so much death — both literally and metaphorically — that Easter is a holiday many families are looking forward to. But by trying to arrange the logistics of such an event, like you're doing right now, we're reminded that we aren't completely out of pandemic danger yet. Like an egg's incubation period, we're still in a transitional state. Unfortunately, it's not quite time to hatch yet.
I know we are all desperate for some normalcy, some sort of gathering that isn't confined by masks, social distancing, and the ever-present fear of getting COVID-19 and dying from it. You say seven of the fifteen people from six different households would be vaccinated. The remaining four are children and then there are four unvaccinated adults. The other households, you say, are okay with yours joining because you've been "extremely cautious." Yet nobody in your household is vaccinated, which is making you "uncomfortable."
Concerned Unvaccinated Family Member, I can see why you're concerned. My head is already spinning with these numbers and keeping track of these households, who's vaccinated and who's being cautious and who's comfortable with what. It's. A. Lot. I could have spent hours consulting statistical tables to give you the probability of infection. Yet none of these details, frankly, will give you assurance you need that one of the unvaccinated won't get COVID-19. So yes, you're concerned. But is that different from being "unreasonable"?
Let me tell you a little story about a family gathering of my own.
Over Christmas, my extended family in the Midwest got together for a small family gathering (only four people). Everyone took the best precautions they knew to take. They isolated themselves for 14 days before Christmas. They took COVID-19 tests before getting together, all of which were negative. They were in the clear! They could have Christmas together! They could have fun! And so they did, albeit with heavy hearts since not everyone (like myself) could be there.
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On Christmas Day, one of the family members in the group had a small cough. But it couldn't be COVID-19, he thought — his test had just come back negative. A couple days later, after Christmas, he felt even worse — fever and body aches. So he got tested again, and sure enough, he was positive for COVID-19. Not too long after, another one of my family members got COVID-19, too — and did I mention together they took care of my 89-year-old grandma? Miraculously, she managed not to get it by isolating in her room for two weeks, surviving on the food family would drop off. Everyone survived, fortunately. Still, it was a very stressful and uncertain few weeks.
I don't mean to scare you, but my point of sharing this with you is that as long as people are unvaccinated and gathering unmasked, eating and drinking — even when they "do the right things" and have been "extremely cautious" beforehand — there is a risk that there could be a COVID-19 outbreak. And the more unvaccinated people that are gathering, the higher that risk is. My family, frankly, has no idea how they all got COVID-19.
So no, I don't think you're being "unreasonable" when it comes to this pandemic problem.
I don't know much about this gathering, but it sounds like proper safety precautions won't be in place, since you mention specifically that it will be "unmasked." I know it's no fun to be the one to throw gloom over a fun event, but you are in the unvaccinated household. There's a lot at stake for you and your family. Now it's time to assess the risk, and make a decision that you feel good about. And however you decide to proceed, don't go on worrying if you're being "unreasonable" or "reasonable" or not. Like I said before, Easter is a time of rebirth. New life. Perhaps it's time to stop questioning yourself when it comes to being worried about the health and safety of your family. It's OK to be concerned. In fact, I'd say it's totally normal.
"Pandemic Problems" is a weekly advice column devoted to answering readers' COVID-related questions — often with help from public health data, philosophy professors and therapists — who weigh in on how to "do the right thing." Do you have a pandemic problem? Email Nicole Karlis at firstname.lastname@example.org. Peace of mind and collective commiseration awaits.