Let Inga Tell You: How the COVID stole Christmas

Nothing said Christmas 2021 for Inga quite like a rapid-result home coronavirus test.

Was this the Christmas that just wasn’t meant to be?

Like so many people, Olof and I were reflecting at Thanksgiving on how much less chaotic Christmas was going to be in 2021 than the previous year. In 2020, our hotel in Los Angeles abruptly canceled the reservations of all guests who weren’t essential workers, and we were scrambling for the PCR coronavirus tests that one of the relatives in our family group of 20-plus was demanding of everyone.

But as Christmas 2021 approached, all five grandchildren were back in onsite learning, much to their mothers’ relief (and sanity). All were vaccinated against COVID-19, even the 7-year-old, and all adults were boostered as well.

Christmas at our younger son Henry’s house in L.A. is always everyone’s favorite two-plus days of the year. Both our family and our daughter-in-law’s family get along well. (As her mother likes to say, “No one is crying in the kitchen.”) My daughter-in-law is a fabulous cook and baker and decorates their home like a Norman Rockwell painting. Her parents, from the East Coast, always send overnight three different kinds of smoked salmon along with some amazing caviar and other fishy delicacies from the best deli in New York to serve for Christmas morning brunch. (Both families being multiethnic has its definite advantages.) The five grandkids are all the perfect ages for Christmas.

So what could go wrong?

Well, pretty much everything.

It was Dec. 21 when the first text came from Henry. His fully vaccinated 7-year-old had a low-grade fever and malaise, and so, in an abundance of caution since the in-laws were arriving from the East Coast the next day, they had him tested. To their surprise, it was positive.

The L.A. grandkids’ private school not only has a rabidly strict mask policy, but it erected temporary classrooms to reduce class size to 10 and seemed to have cornered the world market on individual plexiglass bubbles. It also tests all the kids once a week.

How does such a kid get COVID?

Alas, Christmas had be to be summarily canceled. The in-laws were fortunately able to divert to Northern California to spend Christmas with their son and family (who had been due to go to L.A. as well). But everyone, collectively, was heartbroken.

Personally, I was willing to risk COVID for the smoked salmon for 20 that had already been delivered to my son’s house in L.A. (My daughter-in-law’s mother wryly observed, “I hope they don’t lose their sense of taste and smell.”) Maybe they could leave a selection in a cooler on the front porch for us to pick up?

Meanwhile, the poor 7-year-old was isolated in his room, no contact with siblings, with Masked Mom bringing sustenance several times per day. I FaceTimed him daily. He was bored beyond belief but was being allotted pretty much unlimited screen time, which he concluded might be worth COVID.

But then my daughter-in-law tested positive.

Meanwhile, two family members who had taken advantage of cheap fares to Europe were due to be arriving back on Christmas Eve, planning, as always, to join us. But when the wife did her preflight coronavirus test, it came back positive, causing them to quarantine in a Vienna hotel room for at least 10 days. It wasn’t long before her husband tested positive as well, restarting the clock.

Tearfully, I canceled all our plans: the hotel, the dog sitter, the aviary tender, and unpacked all the stuff I had already packed. It was going to be a very sad Christmas.

By pure serendipity, while I was picking up a prescription at CVS on the 23rd, a shipment of much-coveted coronavirus home test kits arrived. Word spread like toilet paper deliveries, er, wildfire. They sold out in less than an hour. I bought two, just in case.

Some friends heard our plans had been canceled and graciously invited us to join them and their children and grandchildren for Christmas Eve dinner. We gratefully accepted.

It was delightful. As sad as we were about missing our own traditional celebration, it was fun being in a family celebration with others.

Three days later, however, our friends called and said the younger of their two adult sons, with whom we had spent a cozy evening and sat at the same table, had just tested positive. Within days, the son’s wife and his children were positive as well. (Hmmm. Maybe we could have just gone to L.A.? Eaten the salmon?)

Two hours later, another friend texted me that all 15 people at their own Christmas Eve dinner, all of whom had had at least one vaccine dose, had tested positive.

As of this writing, Olof and I (vaccinated and boostered) have tested negative. But I don’t even want to say that out loud. It is never good to tempt the fates. And there are still a whole lot of letters left in the Greek alphabet to name coronavirus variants after.

Inga’s looks at life appear regularly in the La Jolla Light. Reach her at ◆