Navigating a Family Vacation in the Delta Phase of a Pandemic

Bribes may be necessary

Lorenzo Norris, MD


August 05, 2021

The Delta variant of COVID-19 is spreading across the country at a frightening rate. The precipitous rise in COVID-19 cases and hospitalizations across the country definitely triggers flashbacks to the early stages of the pandemic when many healthcare professionals abruptly canceled business travel or vacation plans. Still, after a year of restriction, quarantine, and non-stop use of Clorox wipes, my family is ready for a vacation.

Everyone in my family has been vaccinated, fortunately (many families can't say the same) and my children are absolutely ready to get out of Arlington, Virginia, by any means available. So, similar to all families, we engaged in the time-honored ritual of deciding on the optimal vacation spot. As my children have gotten older, this has turned into a careful, high-stakes negotiation. Pick the wrong destination and you'll have adolescents glaring at you for a week, saying "I'm fine" as they plan your demise as an septuagenarian. My 12-year-old came up with a particularly devious plan that I later bribed her out of through springing for an IHOP brunch. Never, ever doubt the persuasive power of pancakes!

During vacation planning, you absolutely have to take every one's COVID concerns into consideration. I have learned to never make assumptions about anyone's current view of the pandemic.

Interestingly, my daughters have been of two different mindsets regarding the risk posed by COVID-19. My youngest daughter (now 12 years old) never feared COVID because she didn't feel it would affect her. How she held this belief with two parents who are physicians and one that worked in a hospital during the first wave of the pandemic is an utter mystery to me (well, maybe not that much of a mystery).

My oldest daughter (now 15 years old) is likely to reference CDC data and inquire for up-to-date information on the Delta variant. My guess is that other households have similar differences in how their children cope and, consequently, what environments they would find comfortable and safe.

Usually, when my family goes on vacation, we have three main objectives:

  • Get away from stressors

  • Have a change of scenery

  • Quality time with each other

Well...vacation expectations are a bit different amid a global pandemic that has taken the lives of around 4 million people. Getting "away," in the sense of not being reminded of the far-ranging effects of the pandemic, is not viable.

Recently, on a solo trip, I boarded a packed plane. For maybe 10-25 minutes I was able to feel "back to normal." People around me were eating and drinking, and if I squinted my eyes enough, it even felt like circa 2018! Then two of the cutest little kids you'll ever see popped their heads over their seats, donned in PPE worthy of an ICU physician. The brief illusion shattered and was replaced with the grim reality of a Delta variant–fueled pandemic, which is still very much a threat to our most vulnerable populations.

Change of scenery is still very viable. However, your ability to interact in your chosen vacation spot can change dramatically depending on local COVID numbers, politics, and your own risk tolerance. Quality time takes on a new meaning after your house gets turned into a classroom, office, and quarantine zone. You don't get the clean boundary that separates work from family time — and basically everything can turn into COVID time and one never-ending Zoom meeting.

So on this vacation, I will make a concerted effort to focus on quality family time with two key interventions:

  • Confiscate every form of digital communication known to mankind

  • Pack everyone into a car for a lovely 8-hour road trip

Hopefully, after the first 3 hours of complaints subside, we'll appreciate the time we are very fortunate to have together as a family. As always, I'm sure I'll discover topics I was mostly clueless about (YouTubers and Tik Tokkers fighting each other?!?) and topics that I absolutely love to talk about (please tell me you watched WandaVision). Mostly, though, I'll just enjoy hanging out with my family and debating where LeBron James falls in the hierarchy of greatest NBA players of all time.

Most importantly, we'll do all of this while eating IHOP pancakes. Quality time plus pancakes is always a winning recipe. Everyone be safe and well, and enjoy what remains of your summer.

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About Dr Lorenzo Norris
Lorenzo Norris, MD, currently serves as chief wellness officer for the George Washington University Medical Enterprise and serves as associate dean of student affairs and administration for George Washington University School of Medicine and Health Sciences.
Lorenzo is an avid sports fan and previous fantasy basketball champion of the GWU Department of Psychiatry. He is also a die-hard comic book aficionado and has been collecting since he was 5 years old.
Connect with him on Twitter: @lnorrismd


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