Hunkering down to wait out the coronavirus isn’t easy. The costs of isolation are steep. Quarantine fatigue is real. The chance to gather with extended family and friends this holiday season is particularly alluring to those of us battling loneliness. Ritual is the bedrock of human society, and forsaking it feels even more destabilizing in a year that has already thrown us all off-kilter.
Even so, I have a simple suggestion for anyone contemplating a large gathering this month: Wait until March.
I recognize that’s not a small sacrifice. For most Americans, the COVID-19 restrictions began last March, when schools shut down and toilet paper was nowhere to be found, and the toll has only mounted over time. It’s been a long year. Human connection is no luxury, not something we can easily forgo. Socializing is one of the most important contributors to our health and well-being. Social isolation predicts mortality at similar levels to smoking. It’s a greater risk than obesity, elevated blood pressure, and high cholesterol.
But this Christmas will be a particularly terrible time to catch the coronavirus. Hospitals nationwide are already overwhelmed, ICUs stretched to their limit. A surge of cases tied to the holidays could further challenge hospitals’ capacity to provide lifesaving care. Meanwhile, treatments are improving, testing is expanding, and vaccines are arriving. If your loved ones can stay healthy a few months longer, they might be much likelier to survive the disease—or to avoid contracting it entirely.