COVID-19 and Broken Social Relations
The COVID-19 virus’ deadly rampage across the planet has dramatically altered how we live, work and play. This wild ride of social isolation and sheltering in place has served to help prevent the spread of disease as we grapple with the uncertainties of life and imminent death. More recently, the ride has become even rockier with the advent and distribution of vaccines. Though vaccines give us a modicum of safety and the prospects of building towards herd immunity, choosing not to get vaccinated increases the likelihood of the virus mutating out of control. Inside this culture war, both sides are wedded to their beliefs with immovable stubbornness.
Nationally, we also see the mind stressing effects of COVID-19. It is causing people to abuse their families and misbehave at restaurants and on our streets, public transportation, and airplanes. Patrick Smith and Kurt Chirbas’ (September 17, 2021) article titled “Hostess attacked after asking diners for proof of vaccine in New York City,” is just a case in point. Moreover, there are countless stories of how people vent their pent-up rage and incivility when asked about their vaccination status or to show proof of vaccination.
The Trickle Down to Families
The trickle-down of social discord surrounding COVID-19 has seeped into my extended family and divided us forever. Currently, we are unable to resolve our differences in opinion about whether to get vaccinated or not. Among my kinfolk, COVID-19 has been a powder keg set to explode.
Intergenerationally, I am one of those lucky souls raised in a loving family of 44 aunts and uncles on both sides and 58 cousins. In total, 19 out of 22 of my aunts are all nurses. They drummed into us the need for vaccinations, handwashing, and cleanliness with keeping sound health, good nutrition, and physical fitness. As black elders, they also valued social support, visiting, staying connected, and supporting one another to maintain good mental and emotional health. Our togetherness was built on summer backyard barbecues, reunion trips down south and up north, and the celebrations of birthdays, graduations, weddings, home goings, and repasts.
Pre-COVID, I could never have envisioned a total shutdown in family connections. Across the pandemic, the time of forced separation from family in 2020-2021 made me a little stir crazy, and it forced me to get “super” creative. Sometimes I would either call, write, or FaceTime. At other times, I would drop off packages at the side door to break the trend. There were a few times when I would drive-by and honk three times to wave and let the family know I was thinking of them. This pandemic left me with a thirst to get beyond the months of cabin fever, depression, and escalating illness and death. I also hoped that we’d turn a corner with enough people getting vaccinated to support herd immunity. Though we may never again return to a so-called “normal” life, I still hold out hope for airline flights, one-tank trips, mini-vacations, indoor dining, and outdoor family and friend gatherings.
Learning Lessons on Connection
Before the pandemic, I never missed a family event. Like a sizeable population segment, I now decline invitations to any family functions where members are not vaccinated. I am guided by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) rule of thumb that “when a family is fully vaccinated, a small indoor or outdoor gathering is relatively low risk.” However, when there is a mix of vaccinated and unvaccinated guests, the host must take considerable precautions.
This summer, my Aunt Jackie’s 90th Birthday and the unexpected death of our beloved eldest cousin tested our family’s mettle. Naturally, we all intended to show our support. Yet our coming together was not to be. In the end, the tensions between our differing views on COVID-19 and the vaccines nearly tore us to shreds. Now those of us who are vaccinated only socialize with the vaccinated, and we politely decline socializing with family who is unvaccinated. Once our unvaccinated cousins became aware of this decision, they cursed and railed against us as a bunch of self-righteous snobs. So now there are hurt feelings that may never heal. Yet the learning lesson from all of this is that there is a new type of party hosting that I call COVID-19 Aware Hosting.
COVID-19 AWARE HOSTING
(See Katie McCallum, Author | Houston Methodist on Health. June 18, 2021)
Finally, this model addresses the current public health crisis and the respect for “reality” and “the science.” It is a method I highly recommend. There is a reality that COVID-19 may always be with us, so we need to take care and enjoy our families and friends as safely as we can.
Mc Callum, Katie June 18, 2021, 5 Things to Consider Before Gathering with Family During COVID-19. Katie McCallum, Author | Houston Methodist on Health
Smith, Patrick, and Chirbas, Kurt. September 17, 2021, https://www.yahoo.com/news/hostess-attacked-asking-diners-proof-124414541.html