The other night, I made my stepmother cry. I’ve never done that before, but this time I felt as if I had to. My brother had told me about my father and stepmother’s holiday plan, which included staying with relatives and going to a Christmas dinner with about twelve people. I didn’t want my seventy-something parents risking their lives for a dinner. Southern California, where they live, is out of ICU beds. In Los Angeles County, an average of two people are dying every hour. California (like the rest of America) is exploding with viral infections.
“You just have to hold on for a few more months,” I told her, but I could hear her crying on the other end of the line.
We all need to hold on for a few more months. I know this Christmas is particularly hard and lonely for all of us. Though it’s not nearly as hard for most of the people who will read this as it is for the one in five children who don’t have enough to eat this holiday season or for the two Americans currently dying of COVID-19 every minute or for the 310,000 Americans who won’t celebrate this Christmas because they’re dead.
Three times as many more people in the United States are dying each day compared to three months ago, and the number of new cases is six times what it was then. Coronavirus is now the leading cause of death in the United States. We are a country that is poor and sick.
Usually, my husband and I take our teenage children to Southern California to see my dad and stepmom for Christmas, but not this year. This year we’ll stay home. We’ll stay home because we want to protect my parents and we’ll stay home because we don’t want to take our chances with the virus. It’s extremely sad, because holidays are wonderful and I still haven’t met my first (and only) niece. But I know my family is doing the right thing. If we had a functioning federal government, they would order us to stay home, but right now we have a malignant emptiness instead of an executive branch.
It’s December, and Americans are fatigued by the pandemic. We’ve watched all the television we can possibly binge, and the initial coziness of pandemic living (baking bread! learning how to crochet! living in sweat pants!) has morphed into crushing boredom and constant terror about the scale of the catastrophe.
The Pfizer vaccine arrived the same week that we crossed the devastating 310,000 deaths milestone. The vaccines are a crack of light in the darkness. As I write this, a second coronavirus vaccine has been given emergency approval by the FDA. In just ten months we’ve gone from pandemic to vaccine with the kind of speed that most people thought was impossible. They are vaccinating people on television. This week Vice President Mike Pence, House Speaker Nancy Pelosi, Fox “News” owner (and serial disinformation spreader) Rupert Murdoch, and actor Ian McKellen got their first doses of the two-dose vaccine inoculation. The end is coming, but it’s not here.
Meanwhile, the Trump White House continues to hold maskless Christmas parties. The Trump administration delighted in several days of maskless super-spreader events with every tacky celebrity from Kid Rock to the Trump kids. Trump and his administration have been extremely good at not leading and not providing any federal guidance. The Trump administration’s excuse is that federal guidance on mask wearing and social distancing might step on Americans’ “freedoms.” But the reality is for the last ten months the Trump administration has basically tried to ignore the pandemic in the hopes that it would go away and that people wouldn’t notice all the deaths.
One of the many problems with having no federal government guidance is that we Americans are getting our guidance, ahem, elsewhere. One look at my Instagram feed shows why this is a bad idea. Half of the people I follow are locked up, eating cereal all day, watching Netflix, trying not to die (me) and half of my feed is people on vacation pretending everything is normal.
Everything is not normal. One look at the fire engine-red New York Times coronavirus map should be confirmation that the pandemic is not over. It will be over soon; we won’t live like this forever,. But we absolutely need to live like this for a few more months.
We have to hold on through this lonely Christmas. We have to hold on through this gray season. The sun is coming, spring is on its way, and with it will come more vaccines, an economic recovery and eventually a return to normalcy. I know it’s so hard. I look at my unhappy teenagers, my lonely mother, my sad stepmom, and I beg them to hold on. I tell them the cavalry is coming. It’s just not here yet.
I understand the temptation to say the pandemic is over because a few thousand people have been vaccinated. People are tired and they’re bored. It’s dark and there’s no place to go. It’s been almost a year of death and despair and sitting on the sofa. But we’re not at the end of this pandemic, we’re at the peak. So I’m begging you just as I begged my parents and my stepmom: “Just hold on.”