We approach a most joyous time of year, filled with festivities, family reunions and religious significance. But this year we will need to find creative ways to celebrate gratefulness, love and family.
As the holidays loom, the COVID-19 pandemic has taken an ominous turn for the worse. During the first week of November, there were 17,759 new cases of the coronavirus in North Carolina. On Wednesday, Nov. 11, the state set a new daily record of 3,119 lab-confirmed cases, breaking the previous record of 2,908 cases set on Nov. 6.
“This is not the milestone we want to be hitting, particularly as we head into holidays where people want to come together. I am asking North Carolinians to do what they do best, look out for each other,” North Carolina Department of Health and Human Services Secretary Dr. Mandy K. Cohen said during a briefing.
As of Nov. 12, a total of 303,931 North Carolinians had contracted COVID-19 and 4,730 had died from it.
Nationwide, epidemiologists, scientists and public health officials are warning that the worst days of the virus are ahead. The upcoming holidays create the potential for innumerable super-spreading events and set the country up for a “COVID hell” in the words of epidemiologist Michael Osterholm, who was recently named to President-elect Joe Biden’s coronavirus task force.
On Nov. 9, Pfizer announced a vaccine that is more than 90 percent effective in preventing COVID-19. But it appears unlikely that large numbers of people will be able to get it until the spring of 2021, too late to save us from a potentially deadly winter. Doctors have gotten better at treating the virus, but vulnerable people still die from it.
On Tuesday, Nov. 10, Gov. Roy Cooper issued an order reducing the number of people allowed at indoor gatherings from 25 to 10. The order took effect on Friday, Nov. 13, and lasts until Dec. 4. But no executive order will keep us safe. Only by taking personal responsibility for following the guidelines that have proven effective in reducing the spread of COVID-19 can we hope to get through the next few months without losing hundreds or even thousands more North Carolinians to the virus. While the threat may seem abstract unless you or someone you love has contracted COVID-19, failing to adhere to those safety protocols is akin to playing Russian roulette with your own and others’ lives.
The best way to reduce the risk of viral transmission is to limit travel and limit physical contact with people who do not live in your household, according to the NCDHHS. Instead of visiting in person, this is a good year to take advantage of virtual platforms to send greetings and to stay in touch with loved ones and neighbors.
But if you have grown weary of prohibitions against gathering with friends and family, consider holding an outdoor celebration. For instance, throughout North Carolina there are brilliant winter lights displays where families and friends can rendezvous and share a bit of outdoor magic. You’ll find some of them listed below.
Keep in mind that any gathering with people outside your own home poses a risk for COVID-19 transmission. But if you do choose to host a gathering, NCDHHS offers guidelines for hosting lower and moderate risk activities. Most importantly, if you do gather with people outside your household, follow the advice of NDHHS Secretary Cohen to wear a mask, wait six feet apart and wash your hands often.
“We’ve had more time to learn about this devastating virus and study after study shows that these three simple actions can help keep our family, friends and neighbors from getting sick,” Cohen said.
With the announcement from Pfizer of a promising vaccine, we can begin to see our way out of this valley of despair. That gives us much to be thankful for this holiday season. But for now, doing all we can to keep our family and friends safe from a potentially deadly virus is the best gift we can give them.
NC Arboretum, Asheville
Daniel Stowe Botanical Garden, Belmont
Lake Myra Light Display, Wendell (near Raleigh)
Charlotte Motor Speedway
Tryon International Equestrian Center, Mill Spring
Elizabethan Gardens, Manteo
Joy Franklin is a journalist and writer who served as editorial page editor of the Asheville Citizen-Times for 10 years. Prior to that she served as executive editor of the Times-News in Hendersonville., N.C. Franklin writes for Carolina Commentary.