fitness · season transitions

Winter pandemic socializing: moving to Plan B

Remember pandemic summer? It now seems a glorious idyll, compared with the stingy light emissions, dead leaves and cold reality of mid-November. It’s all headed downhill from here. And not in a good way.

This picture may seem unrelated, but a) it’s a downhill mountain bike; and b) it conveys a grim coolness, to which I aspire.

During those lazy hazy days of late summer, I wrote a blog post about prepping for winter, in which I laid out some ideas for ensuring cozy continuous COVID-free contact with friends and family. Visions of patio heaters and down-filled onesies danced in my head, and the prospect of changes in temperature seemed like no problem at all. We just throw heating appliances and polartec fleece at the problem, and it vanishes.

Several months later, I’m finding that plan A isn’t the solution I hoped it would be. Friends and I are still meeting outside some, but as winter gets closer, the cold and damp is less inviting as a backdrop for leisurely socializing. I yearn for the coziness of my living room, with its comfy sofas and soft throw blankets and smoke-free fireplace video, courtesy of Netflix (I prefer the one with no soundtrack– just the crackle sounds).

Crackling fireplace on Netflix.

So, I’ve ditched my previous plan and am now working on Plan B. This new plan consists of the following:

  • Running a HEPA air purifier in my living room/dining room area to help reduce aerosols (I picked one after reading extensive reviews on this site);
  • Having a supply of both N95 masks and high-quality disposable masks for guests to wear while inside my house;
  • Arranging my living room/dining room area for comfortable and generous social distancing;
  • limiting guests to one or two others at a time;
  • limiting or giving up meals together inside (so to maintain mask wearing inside);
  • limiting my circle of guests to a very small number of them;
  • Faithfully Zooming with a larger circle of friends to keep in touch, even when the Zooming itself seems like a chore;
  • Reminding each other that this isn’t forever– there will be spring and vaccines and ebbing of caseloads, as is the way of things.

IMPORTANT DISCLAIMER: I’m not making any claims about the benefits or risk reduction of any of these actions I’m taking. In particular, the combo of air purifier and serious mask wearing indoors for a small number of people is just something I’ve decided to try. And, it’s based on reading and talking with knowledgable folks. But, this is an area of great uncertainty and unknown risk. I’m doing me here. You do you.

I’m taking on whatever risks that go along with this plan because I really value and need social contact of various sorts with the people I care about, and I’m making this call. It’s possible (even likely) that things will change and I’ll have to come up with Plan C. Luckily, there’s an entire alphabet at our disposal, so we can pivot and shift and improvise as we learn what does (and doesn’t) work.

Readers, what are you winter pandemic plans? Are you all-outdoors-or-bust? Are you doing some indoor socializing? I’d love to hear what ideas you’ve come up with.

9 thoughts on “Winter pandemic socializing: moving to Plan B

  1. I appreciate your thinking through options for #safersocializing — Susan and I did a similar “windows wide open, us in coats next to windows, parents 10 feet away” thing for halloween. It’s all adaptation at this point. Hugs.

  2. Woof, I’ve also been keenly aware in the months leading up to now how much more awful quarantining will be once we added in the time change darkness + cold weather + added flu season. Where do you live? Here in CO we have been lucky so far with mild temperatures still… which helps my mindset a ton. We are on the verge of another total lockdown, but im still in good spirits as long as I can walk my dog outdoors without freezing my butt off!

  3. This is an interesting post and I think underscores some important differences between our two countries. I’m not so much interested in our different answers about what to do–we live in different covid circumstances, in different personal circumstances–more in the decision making process, our approach to the question.

    The question you ask is posed as one for individuals, but here (in Canada, in Ontario) we have pretty strong advice from Public Health that many of us feel pulled to follow because it’s the advice of Public Health. So I’m living in an Orange Zone (we’re either green, yellow, orange or red) where Public Health has a pretty stern message about having people over.

    Don’t go into anyone’s home that isn’t your own – and don’t invite anyone over for a social visit, say health officials in Wellington-Dufferin-Guelph. “Birthday parties, sleepovers, playdates, coffee dates, game nights and dinner parties are spreading the virus,” said the community’s medical officer of health, Dr. Nicola Mercer, in a public letter to the community dated Tuesday.

    Toronto is worse. It’s a red zone. Last week the Mayor and Public Health announced that outdoor socializing–park hangs, stoop visits, walks and runs with friends — needs to stop. Public Health officials called for a complete end to socializing of any kind with people outside of your household, indoors or out. “My message today when it comes to COVID-19 is very blunt and very simple: Please stay home,” said Mayor John Tory.

    Now these aren’t rules. There are no fines. But they feel like more than advice. Public Health officials are wringing their hands and begging people to to do what they say. It doesn’t feel like just an individual decision about risk.

    But the challenges are different when you live alone. Also, there are mental health needs that legitimately need to get weighed in the balance. And we know that not all ways of spending time with friends are equally risky. So we read the advice and make our own judgement calls. Still, when I look around and see lots of people making really bad judgement calls (100 person student parties, indoors, unmasked) I start to think that the days of making individual judgements might be coming to an end. It might be time to treat that advice as rules.

    How much weight to give to the advice of experts and how much scope for individual decision making? I expect Canadians are more on the former and Americans are more on the latter. I’m hoping where ever this lands I get to go outside in the winter with friends!

    1. Thanks, Sam, for your thoughtful comments. I agree with you that our countries are influencing how we respond to the pandemic. One huge difference is the degree and type of leadership– COVID messaging in the US has been late, inconsistent, haphazard, and wimpy. Even in eastern Massachusetts– a place where there’s lots of community buy-in for science-based policy– there’s not the clear and strong signal that I would hope for. I think my friends and I feel pretty much abandoned in the wilderness here.

      As someone who lives alone, who is not particularly high-risk, who works from home, and whose family live 1000 miles away, I decided (after a lot of discussion with close friends and family) that I am going to engage in distanced social contact, with as many risk reduction features in place as I can think of. For my own mental health, it’s important to me to have some in-person human contact. A few of my friends (3 or so who are in the same boat, or similar boats), are thinking along the same lines. Others are limiting themselves to outdoor contact only.

      We will have to see how all this goes. Conditions are changing (right now, not in a good way), and in a week or two this plan may go out the door (in more ways than one). I will be reporting back on updates as we go through the winter.

      1. One more thought… I’ve been pretty happy with bundled up outdoor socializing, like more than I thought I would be. With layers, hot drinks and a source of warmth it feels okay. Also outdoor activities work. But yeah, I get the single point. And I think if I lived alone I’d find a friend to “pod up” with and agree to not see others. Maybe serial pod friends with two week gaps in between.

  4. I was just exploring your site more and discovered you have a book! I’m interested in ordering it for my mom, but it seems like I’m not permitted to have it ship to the US. Is that correct, or should there be a way for me to order it and I just need to keep trying?

  5. Great post, I just read the comments too and I agree where you live and the rules (strict or not) play a part. Right now socialising is okay here so it’s fine for me, we are also going into summer so outdoors is also fine. Your plan B sounds good for you and I hope you don’t have to keep going down the alphabet 🤞❤️

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