To Go or Not to Go

The Context:

Brie first reminded me that even people who respect science don’t make decisions based on science alone. We all have competing values and priorities that we weigh as we make decisions. A simple example of this. A few weeks ago, I was chaperoning the scooter carpool to soccer practice. When I hit the street, I realized I had forgotten to grab my mask as I left my apartment. I realized it because it felt weird because I always wear a mask outside of my apartment. I proceeded without a mask because, I reasoned, “I’ll be scootering outside and not within six feet of people.” What I neglected to consider was the value I place on conformity and my identity as someone who wears a mask. I felt judged by my fellow mask wearing New Yorkers during the entirety of the 20 minute round trip — causing me to regret my decision.

The Tools:

Fortunately there are tools that can help us better understand our risks and inform our calculations.

The Decision:

So how does this all add up when it comes to us making everyday decisions and risks related to COVID-19?

  • Pre-commitments. We don’t gather inside. We don’t take overnight trips. We don’t touch/share things with our hands. We don’t get together with groups of ten or more people. We don’t hug. We wear masks when we aren’t eating. If these pre-commitments aren’t met, then Turkey Day at the in-laws is not possible.
  • Attestations. We all confirm that we don’t have any symptoms. We all take a PCR test before coming. We all confirm that we’ve self-isolated before and after waiting for results. This increases the likelihood that we might attend as it creates shared confidence in the safety of the gathering.
  • Conditions. If we go, then we must sit on opposite ends of the table. If we go, then there is only one person serving food. If we go, we will use disposable plates and utensils. If the weather prohibits us from eating outside, then we can’t go. If infection rates rise to unacceptable levels in either of our counties, then we stay home. These conditions set clear boundaries that increase safety and understanding.
  • Acknowledgements. The most important thing I can do is to have a direct conversation with everyone involved — my husband, my kids, my in-laws. We are all trying to make our own calculations with different inputs and formulas. Collectively, it’s important to acknowledge that our various values, biases and risk calculations may be different from each other. And that’s ok. Hopefully we’re able to make a decision that everyone can live with. If not, at least we better understand where everyone is coming from.

Our holidays should not be super spreaders of disease but super spreaders of compassion and understanding.

Which brings me back to the appeal of a common explanatory metaphor. As someone steeped in health and health care, perhaps I wish I could treat Thanksgiving (and similar decisions) the way a doctor may treat her patient. Beginning with the original Hippocratic principle of “do no harm.”

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Lori Melichar

Lori Melichar

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Robert Wood Johnson Foundation (@RWJF) Director exploring cutting-edge ideas and emerging trends to build a Culture of Health.