Do you really need to risk your health, or someone else’s, for the satisfaction of a shared meal and the privilege of arguing politics with your wrongheaded cousins?
This is one of many questions wrapped up in the larger pro-con conversation about whether extended families should gather this year for the holidays.
The principal pro is clear: You and your kin will have the comfort of being together after a miserable year. That prospect will surely bring many families together in November and December, especially if they can drive rather than fly.
The big con, of course, is that you might infect one or more of your kin. Or they might infect you. Maybe your family has been lucky so far, but the U.S. death count passed 170,000 on Aug. 17, and that list is dominated by grandparents and great-grandparents.
There’s no way to know how the infection and death numbers will change over the next few months. But now isn’t too soon to look at the pros and cons of traveling to see family, especially if flying is involved.
Doing some research might help you manage expectations (if you’re against) or get better prices (if you’re in favor).
Begin with a few questions:
How necessary is this trip? How old is everyone involved, and how healthy? How do infection and death rates compare between my area and my destination?
One who probably won’t take a long-distance family trip this year is John DiScala, who runs the travel advice website JohnnyJet.com. DiScala, who lives in Manhattan Beach, Calif., with his wife, Natalie; son Jack, 4; and daughter Olivia, 1, usually visits his father in Florida and his in-laws in Toronto. But now …
“I want to go visit my dad, but he’s 92. And I can’t risk giving it to him,” DiScala said. “It’s torture.”
Also though DiScala has airline tickets to visit his in-laws in December, he’s expecting to cancel that trip too.
DiScala hasn’t boarded a flight since February — the longest he’s gone without flying in his adult life.
Why? Because DiScala has asthma and because he’s paying attention to infection and death statistics and listening to medical professionals.
“Right now, there are more cons than pros to flying,” he said. “The longer that we wait, the better the scientists and doctors can figure out what’s going on with this virus and how to treat it.”
Dr. Henry J. Ortiz, a psychologist in West Los Angeles, has come to a similar conclusion.
Ortiz and his fiancée had planned to fly to New York this winter to join her family. Now, he said, “we have begun some mourning about the fact that it’s unlikely that we’ll get to New York for the Christmas holidays.”
As things currently stand, that kind of vacation “for most of us is not a smart or moral thing to do right now,” Ortiz said. Yet, “the holidays are so meaningful for so many of us, it’s natural to have a lot of different emotions and excitement.”
Before anyone commits to a trip, Ortiz said, families should reexamine the way they communicate and how they handle changing circumstances.
“More than ever, we need to develop good communication skills,” Ortiz said. “We need to be open and honest with each other about what’s important and why that’s important.”
Dr. Rubén Hernández-León, a sociology professor at the University of California, Los Angeles and director of the university’s Center for Mexican Studies, cited several major variables for Mexicans and Mexican Americans considering travel to Mexico for the holidays.
One unknown: The border, officially closed to nonessential land travel since March, may still be closed in November and December. Another: Some Mexicans and Mexican Americans may be nervous about recrossing into the U.S. under the Trump administration.
Meanwhile, Hernández-León said, many rural Mexican towns have already put out word that they’d rather not have visitors this year. That would mean less money in the community but could reduce the virus threat to aging parents.
“If things are more or less the way they are now, a lot of people will end up staying put,” Hernández-León said. “There are going to be a lot of phone calls, a lot of WhatsApp videos.”
In Hernández-León’s case? “I’m staying put. Usually either my parents come here (from Monterrey, in the Mexican state of Nuevo León) or I go there. And of course this is not going to happen this year.”
With California leading the country with more coronavirus cases than any other state, public health experts here urge people to postpone nonessential trips. Yet legions of airlines, hotels and Airbnb operations, desperate for revenue, are happy to welcome them.
This means travelers must decide for themselves. Here are more pros and cons.