In early December, at least one party at Art Basel in Miami featured a sight not seen in some time: bowls of nuts on a bar, intended for communal consumption. “Is this a test?” one well-heeled attendee asked her friend.
Probably not, but it was a sign that many people were willing to return to prepandemic practices, and all the germ spreading that came with it.
There have been other signs too: Fishbowl cocktails with multiple straws are back on bar menus. Buffets have made a comeback at conferences, casinos and galas. In November, Brianna Lapaglia, a 23-year-old in Manhattan who has her own podcast, “PlanBri Uncut,” on Barstool Sports, said: “I feel like we are doing all the things we did before the pandemic, but 10 times harder.” To wit, she was going to dive bars, house parties and clubs where she and her friends would pass a bottle and drink straight from it.
Some surveys supported this semi-sigh of relief. YouGov, a market research company, found that 49 percent of American adults didn’t wear a mask at the beginning of December, compared with 16 percent almost a year ago in early January. Morning Consult has been asking consumers on a weekly basis about their comfort returning to prepandemic habits and activities. In the middle of December it found that 78 percent of Americans were comfortable going out to eat (compared with 66 percent in mid-December 2021) and 65 percent were comfortable going to a party (compared with 46 percent).
But now, Covid-19, the flu and R.S.V. are raging, creating a tripledemic. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently recommended a return to masking (as did Mayor Eric Adams of New York, while wearing one). Some people are starting to pivot. And some are resolutely not. Which is creating certain tensions and aggravations.
‘Who Wants to Get Sick?’
The first time Hayley Cranberry Small, 31, a ceramist in Brooklyn, took off her mask back in September, she ended up with Covid. “I went to a fashion week and an art gallery opening in TriBeCa,” she said. “I wanted to look cute, so I took my mask off.”
When she tested positive for Covid, “it was this feeling of, ‘Wow, classic, of course I go out without a mask on one time, and I get Covid,’” she said.
But time passed and she did it again, this time in early December for her birthday. She and a friend went to Twins Lounge, a two-floor bar in Greenpoint that packs in over a hundred people at a time on weekends.
“I didn’t want to wear a mask at the bar,” she said. “It isn’t cute.”
This time she woke up with strep throat, another illness making its rounds through New York City. She has vowed not to go anywhere crowded or take her mask off again. “A lot of my friends are going out, and a lot of people expect you to be comfortable at this point,” she said. “But I don’t care anymore. Who wants to get sick?”
Keep Calm and Party On
As a Transportation Security Administration officer in San Juan, Angela Ochoa, 53, knows the risk. But in the middle of October, she went on a four-day cruise from Los Angeles to Ensenada, Mexico, where she spent her nights dancing to cover bands in the theater. During the day, she exercised in the gym and shopped in crowded ports.
She recently caught Covid but doesn’t regret any decisions. “I knew I would get Covid sooner or later because everybody gets it,” she said. “Now that I got it I am like, OK, I don’t have extreme symptoms because I am vaccinated. I feel better about doing all these things, including going on a cruise again.”
Patrick Pho, 39, who works in marketing and lives in Arlington, Va., understands he may get sick this holiday season. “December always feels like the perfect storm,” he said. “Besides the expected holiday parties thrown by friends, my birthday falls around a week before Christmas.”
He attended three holiday parties and threw himself a birthday party, a happy hour at a bar in Washington, D.C. “I am aware of the higher chances of getting sick at this time of year,” he said. And he feels protected: “I got the latest bivalent Covid vaccine,” he said, adding that he also got a flu shot.
An All-Too-Familiar Stress for Parents
Jessy Roos, 36, is a mother of four, ages 8 to 18 months, who owns a therapy practice in Calgary, Alberta. She has been shocked by how many children have gotten sick this season.
“I have two friends with small children hospitalized right now with pneumonia,” she said. For the past two weeks, her children have been passing a flulike virus from one sibling to the others.
“I finally pulled them out of school last week even though their last day of school isn’t until this week,” she said. “There has been no break. We’re cycling from one illness to another.” She is especially concerned about her children catching something else since their local hospital is already overwhelmed with patients and there is a global shortage of antibiotics. She said it’s all she and other parents can talk about.
On Dec. 9, she tweeted about how her child cried after not being able to go to a new friend’s birthday party at an indoor play place. “There’s simply no way to make that a safe activity,” she wrote. “I hate this.” She was shocked by the vitriol aimed back at her from strangers. “On Twitter, on Facebook, on Instagram, I was inundated with aggressive, awful DMs,” she said. “I got one-star business reviews, and people emailed me.” She changed all her settings to private.
Julia Dahl, 45, a novelist and professor of journalism at N.Y.U. who lives in Cornwall-on-Hudson, N.Y., decided to skip all holiday gatherings this year. “We are not doing anything social outside of my family,” she said.
“I’ve probably skipped two holiday parties and then multiple things like, ‘Somebody has a gig at a local bar or coffee shop,’” she said.
“It’s a risk-reward thing,” added Ms. Dahl, who has a 7-year-old son. “The risk of spending three hours in somebody else’s home with a whole bunch of people, the reward is so great because it’s camaraderie and fun, but it’s not worth the risk of bringing any number of illnesses right now into my family.”
She said her friends, the people hosting the parties or inviting her for nights out, have been understanding. “The people I really care about seem very cool with it,” she said. “They are like, ‘I get it, it’s probably dumb to have a party anyway, and let’s go for a walk or have a cup of coffee outside next week.’”
The person she is battling with, however, is herself. “I hate that I am like this,” she said. “I am a total extrovert, and I love parties.”
She tells herself it won’t last. “I feel like this is not forever, and I am willing to do another holiday season where I don’t do a lot,” she said. “I hope next year will be better, but right now my priorities are my family and keeping us healthy and happy. It’s a price to pay, but it doesn’t feel like a huge price to pay.”