Poma: COVID-19 Isn’t Taking a Holiday Break


(Design by David Onwukeme | The Daily Utah Chronicle)

By Sasha Poma, Assistant Opinion Editor


Everyone hoped the coronavirus pandemic would dwindle in severity by the end of summer. But here we are, seven months after the lockdown was initiated, facing terrifying increases in case counts statewide — on Oct. 30, Utah had a spike of 2,292 cases in one day. The state sent out a public safety alert regarding the rapid spread of COVID-19 before the Halloween weekend, but concerns about the safety of the holiday season are only just beginning. Pandemic fatigue has kicked in for many of us, especially as we stare down the winter holidays when large gatherings and frequent visits are a tradition for many families. But COVID-19 is not going away just because the holiday season is here. We need to be extremely cautious during the last stretch of 2020 in order to keep ourselves and our loved ones safe.

Public health warnings are no joke and aren’t used very often — even though they might feel frequent this year. Utah’s Department of Public Safety would not have administered the recent alert if the public adhered to health recommendations. The fact that it took this warning for people to seriously consider their own health and safety is sad and disappointing.

Even after the alert, Utahns still chose to be reckless over the Halloween weekend. In Utah county, a massive Halloween rave was held in protest of COVID-19 safety mandates. And after Nov. 6, which had a case count of 2,987, it’s clear that these types of celebrations cause infection spikes.

No one ever said the pandemic was over. And since Utah is only one of numerous hotspots here in the US, it’s likely it won’t be over in 2021 either. We need to take CDC recommendations seriously, even after Governor Herbert’s new safety mandates expire. For example, we know from the past that masks slow the spread of the virus, so not being “required” to wear them anymore doesn’t mean we shouldn’t, especially as crowds increase during November and December.

Thanksgiving and Christmas are the busiest times of the year for airports, malls and homes alike. We all know that the holidays entail a lot of shopping for gifts, traveling to visit family and hosting get-togethers at home. These are high-traffic areas and high-risk activities that are just not safe right now — especially for essential workers, who will come into contact with the countless people expected to flood stores.

If we’re seeing dramatic rises in cases and hospitalizations now, I don’t want to imagine what cases might look like if people aren’t wise and careful as they celebrate the holidays this year. Hospitals are already reaching full capacity in Utah. Our healthcare workers are physically and emotionally exhausted. With the holiday bustle, hospitals may not be able to handle another onslaught of sick people.

People are going stir-crazy, prompting a rise not just in COVID-19 cases but in plane ticket purchases for holiday travel. It’s so important to consider whether the benefits of traveling really outweigh the risks of contracting the virus or spreading it to others. Utah families should begin to think about how their traditional plans can be modified to keep their friends and loved ones safe this year, whether that means reconsidering a trip home for the holidays, shopping solely online or holding gatherings via Zoom or with significantly fewer people.

The CDC has put out recommendations for the fall and winter holidays. People may put down these suggestions, but at the end of the day, we must be cautious for the sake of our friends, families and all others we come into contact with on a daily basis. It’s always better to be safe than sorry. If you find that it’s better not to travel extensively, then do that. If it’s safer for your family to forego a huge Thanksgiving gathering, remember there will be opportunities in the future and do the right thing.

The holidays are not canceled this year, and it’s not an attack or infringement for health experts to ask us to be more mindful when making plans to shop or travel. For University of Utah students especially, the entire reason we’re ending in-person instruction before Thanksgiving is to have everyone home during the rush and prevent more dramatic case increases. We can’t squander these opportunities to uphold guidelines and be an example to our families and friends — so this year, there really is no place like home for the holidays.


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