USA

Pandemic fatigue could make cold-weather COVID spike worse. Want a better 2021? Resist risky holiday gatherings.

When epidemiologist Dr. Emily Landon started researching coronavirus in January, she told herself if Americans embraced a national plan based on the available science, the worst could be over when summer rolled around.

“By April, I realized it wasn’t going to be better in the summer. So you think, ‘OK, fine, you’re just going to give up 2020 and we’re just going to look forward to next year,’ ” said Landon, head of infection prevention and control at the University of Chicago Medicine. “Now I feel like it’s going to be half of next year.”

And as people weigh the risks and rewards of getting together with family to celebrate the holidays, experts warn that without significant changes, Chicagoans could be in for a grim winter.

City residents who flocked outside Thursday afternoon to enjoy a warm, sunny day worried about the coming months and talked of scaled-down holiday dinners and traditions that will likely be impossible to follow this year.

“It just feels really bleak, looking ahead at a whole winter and thinking about the holidays," Landon said. "It just feels really tough, and it is really tough — there’s no way to sugarcoat that.”

People aren’t built to operate on such a high-stress, high-stakes level for such an extended period of time — considering each action as a potentially life and death decision, Landon said. Those who have followed all recommended guidance only to face a third wave about eight months into the pandemic may rightfully feel resentment, she said.

“It’s more fatiguing for the rest of us when you have to fight against this refusal to play by the same rules,” Landon said. “I feel like with this pandemic ... the vast majority want to protect others and there’s a vocal minority that argues about where their rights end and everyone else’s begin."

"If you could just count on everyone else to wear a mask, we wouldn’t be furiously paddling in circles, going nowhere,” she said.

“Demanding everyone wear a mask all the time in public isn’t too big of an ask when you consider all we collectively do as a nation to contribute to the greater good,” she said.

Chicagoan Anthony Brown, 28, has seen firsthand the losses from COVID-19. One of his close friends lost his father to the coronavirus this summer. And a relative recently contracted the virus, though thankfully she appears to be getting better.

So Brown, who wore a mask while working outdoors Thursday, is cautious about letting his guard down.

“It’s been a rough year,” Brown said.

Maintenance worker Anthony Brown does some work at a building near Oz Park in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on Oct. 22, 2020.

Maintenance worker Anthony Brown does some work at a building near Oz Park in the Lincoln Park neighborhood on Oct. 22, 2020. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

He still uses video chats to visit with family members, particularly those who are older and more vulnerable. Going on eight months, though, he really misses their regular presence.

“I’m really concerned,” he said. “I have a lot of family I’d love to see.”

Dr. Michelle Prickett, an associate professor at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine, lamented how long the pandemic has kept people like Brown from their families, saying restrictions were made regionally, piecemeal.

“The issue is here we never really had a national response,” she said. “Nothing was really that consistent.”

Dr. Michael Lin, an infectious disease specialist and an associate professor at Rush Medical College, echoed Prickett’s concern about the national response to the virus. He said it is “human nature” to grow tired of the restrictions, but that isn’t his primary worry.

“I’m less concerned about fatigue and more about just the scientific disinformation and messaging from the federal government and president,” he said. “I think all of us are on one level or another fatigued, but I’m just concerned that there’s a lot of messaging about how masks don’t work and social distancing is not needed.”

Ardia Caniquie took the three children she was watching, one of her own and two she babysits, to a playground to take advantage of Thursday’s warmth.

The 43-year-old woman, though, worries about the coming winter.

Ardia Caniquie cares for three children, including one of hers, at Oz Park in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood on Oct. 22, 2020.

Ardia Caniquie cares for three children, including one of hers, at Oz Park in Chicago's Lincoln Park neighborhood on Oct. 22, 2020. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

“It’s terrible,” she said of the increasingly chilly weather. “We used to take walks every day.”

Urban centers, including Chicago, were hardest-hit early on, but as Illinois saw declines in late spring and early summer, cases began to spike in the South.

Now, with parts of the country allowing in-person school and some areas experiencing colder weather, the majority of states are battling increasing infection rates — the third wave.

The likelihood of becoming infected at an outside gathering is 20 times less likely than becoming infected indoors, Prickett said. So an increase in indoor socializing can easily lead to a spike in cases.

Although Prickett said gatherings should be avoided, when someone outside your immediate family is coming into your home, she recommends giving each other at least 8 feet of space, along with opening windows — even if it means dining in a parka.

“I’m hearing from patients they just got comfortable and relaxed or let their guard down one time,” Prickett said. “They’re not getting it in the grocery store — they’re getting it in their homes.”

Dr. Susan Casey Bleasdale, an infectious disease physician and associate professor at the UIC College of Medicine, warned Chicagoans about becoming complacent about gatherings of friends and family, cautioning that it’s “socialization that is putting people at risk.”

Even when keeping social circles small, people can still face exposure from others who were in contact with their family and close friends, Bleasdale said.

“That’s kind of exponential,” she said. “That’s how it can spread.”

“The collective sentiment from everyone is just disappointment on some level because we know what’s coming,” said Prickett. “You get comfortable and that’s not a great place to be, but hypervigilance for months on end isn’t either. There is a balance."

Sandor Hizo, 31, usually spends Thanksgiving with family members working at a food pantry on the Northwest Side, but that tradition is up in the air.

“This year, I don’t know what we’re going to do,” Hizo said, as he played with a dog in a North Side park Thursday afternoon.

Sandor Hizo talks about getting through the COVID-19 pandemic while playing with a dog named Josephine at Oz Park on Oct. 22, 2020.

Sandor Hizo talks about getting through the COVID-19 pandemic while playing with a dog named Josephine at Oz Park on Oct. 22, 2020. (John J. Kim / Chicago Tribune)

As of now, he thinks they will prepare some holiday food and drive through the city passing it out. But as cases rise and city restrictions tighten, even that plan is uncertain.

“Right now we’re taking this one step at a time,” he said.

When it comes to the holidays, people have a tendency to want to look for information that reinforces what they want to hear, Landon said. It’s called confirmation bias and she’s hearing about it more and more from patients. They want someone to say it’s OK to celebrate and visit with family, even when what we know about how COVID-19 spreads suggests otherwise, she said.

In situations where people do gather, Bleasdale says it’s best to stay masked and avoid sharing food or utensils.

“The holidays are going to be a challenge,” she said.

Prickett said that when she began treating her first COVID-19 patients early this year, it felt as though she was preparing to go to war. Everyone was focused on wearing protective gear and taking every precaution. But she has seen the attention to detail slip off as the pandemic has marched on.

“Making these decisions about holidays, we’re just running a risk," Prickett said. “And as much as everyone wants to see their family this year, I’d rather make sure we see them all again next year.”

Football news:

Тот Tottenham midfielder Winks scored from 49 yards. This is the 3rd result in the Europa League, all - in this draw
This miss will hurt all men: Molde player missed from half a meter and drove into the bar
Mikel Arteta: I am Very happy with Pepe's game against Molde. Arsenal played well overall
Napoli players came out in t-shirts with Maradona's name and number 10 for the Europa League match
Daniele Bonera: Milan is happy with the game with Lille and only regrets the result
Neymar on Maradona: You will always remain in our memory. Football is grateful to you
If football was a movie, Diego would be its main character. Showsport readers say goodbye to Maradona