October 11, 2020

Love in the time of COVID-19

Love in the time of COVID-19
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By Linda H. Smedley

I’ve heard the term “covidiot” aimed at people taking unnecessary risks and risking others during the pandemic. “Those covidiots letting their kids on the playground equipment.” “Those covidiots having a party,” “Those covidiots not wearing their masks.” I now realize that I, too, am a covidiot.

This summer, during a beautiful mountain picnic, my sweetheart of three years asked me to marry him. At age 54, this would be my first marriage. We both had decided that we wanted a small wedding, pandemic or not, and we figured that we would just go ahead and have a small outdoor one for the summer solstice. We invited some dear friends, leaving so many dear friends and family out, and came up with a list of ten guests and two musicians to join us on our special day.

For two weeks, my fellow labored over the yard where we would be careful to distance chairs and distance our dear friend from us when she officiated our vows. Things would be beautiful, but safe. My only child said there was no way she was going to let her mama get married without her attending, so we arranged her flight and stay at an Airbnb.

She flew in on a Thursday afternoon. At the airport, I had the wherewithal to nod when she asked, “Should I sit in the backseat?” and we sadly agreed to no hugs and keeping our masks on. When I dropped her off at the Airbnb, she said she felt tired and a bit achy – scary words during a pandemic. She told me that her menstrual period was about to begin and she had been up late drinking the night before.

These good explanations for her condition sat well in my mind. Nevertheless, I shared the information with my sister that night. We three were scheduled to go on a picnic the next day. I wanted my sister, who has asthma and is over 60, to have a heads up. She immediately began texting me her worries and what-ifs. We agreed to see how my daughter was doing the next day.

Friday morning, she said she felt much better –  just a little tired, maybe a little achy. We three agreed that she should not join us for the picnic, just in case. Then, my sister contacted my daughter and asked her to please join us, saying this would be a special girls’ picnic before I would get married the next day. So, we joyously picnicked out in the open, masks mostly on and keeping a safe six-foot distance.

My daughter felt great all the rest of that day even into the next morning. “We got this,” we thought. Certainly, if she had the virus she wouldn’t feel this great, and those other reasons could easily explain her feeling ill the day before. My sister said, “Why don’t you get her tested anyway?” My daughter agreed, saying it wouldn’t hurt to confirm things before she flew out of town. So, we spent a couple hours in the car (windows open as much as we could) at our west-side clinic, waiting in line. Results would come the following week.

When I had invited the guests, I told them that we would be COVID careful, physically distancing and wearing masks. Just to be extra safe, I asked my daughter to take her temperature that morning, which she did, and it was normal. She was careful at the wedding, telling people she didn’t want to come into the house, staying back most of the time. Everyone arrived in masks. We had hand sanitizer placed in various places outside, disposable napkins in the bathroom. We had assigned a friend who had already fully recovered from the virus back in March to handle the food.

Somehow, after our vows, a lot of us demonstrated covidiot behaviors. My mask dropped off several times because I felt I was at a safe distance from others, despite a guest asking people to please keep their masks on because she was going to visit her aging mother the next week.

I noticed other guests sometimes dropping their masks, maybe to drink some wine or just to breathe a little bit of fresh air. One friend asked a guest to keep her mask on, that his wife has immune challenges and she was sitting too close. The guest scooted her chair back but didn’t keep her mask on.

Someone reached out for a hug and I accepted. The musicians played a foot tapping tune and my new husband and I danced without our masks. My daughter engaged in long conversations a little too close to a young friend of ours who had dropped his mask below his nose. After the music, later in the wedding, masks were sometimes up, sometimes down as people felt at ease and engaged in excited conversations. I noticed that a lot of people were scooting in closer than six feet.

Monday morning, my daughter received her test results. She had tested positive for COVID-19. I immediately contacted the other eleven people who were at our wedding. I told them all the facts, including that she had had some symptoms Thursday and that we had had her tested Friday. Most were supportive, some were understandably angry that I had not forewarned them or had allowed my daughter to attend our wedding. The friend with a compromised immune system ended our friendship of over 12 years.

I remember hearing an expert epidemiologist back in March say that risking interaction during this pandemic means possibly killing someone. Luckily, none of our guests tested positive for the virus. I still feel regretful that there was any risk to someone’s health or life.

I was at least as much of a covidiot as the others I have criticized. We thought we were having our wedding in spite of the seemingly invisible COVID monster, a bit of joy amongst a rough time, but we were creating a situation where there were too many chances to make a mistake, too many opportunities to be caught up in being human.

I don’t regret gathering some of the people I love and marrying my sweetheart on that gorgeous summer day, even during the pandemic. But, if one of our guests had caught the virus, I know I would have felt responsible.