After flattening the curve significantly towards the end of the summer, New Jersey is once again witnessing a drastic uptick in the number of COVID-19 cases with about 5,032 new positive ones each day. Cases in New Jersey have been fluctuating since March 13th, but over the months we saw a steady decrease in new cases each day. In July, our state experienced a low of about 200-300 cases per day, but as we approached September and early October, the cases began to surge once again. The New York Times reports that New Jersey has now become the state with the highest virus fatality rate in the country. The article claims the recent uptick in cases is not due to the reopenings of schools and businesses but rather to private indoor gatherings, which are difficult to regulate As we approach the beginnings of yet another lockdown, it’s crucial that we not only continue to follow safety protocols provided by the CDC, but also evaluate the mistakes and trends our community has made in the past in order to progress.
During the holiday season last year, a number of religious groups were posed with the question of whether or not to celebrate with friends and family- and if so, how? The Jewish community in Brooklyn, New York was one of the first groups forced to address this dilemma. Rosh Hashanah and Yom Kippur, having passed, are two holidays which are traditionally celebrated in large groups at synagogues. Many had no option but to celebrate outdoors in order to observe the holiday, potentially being one factor which has ignited the resurgence of positive cases, as health officials claim.
Garba, a popular festival stemming from Gujrati culture but enjoyed by all, is a festival where family and friends get together to dance with one another indoors and in close proximity. Over the years Garba has expanded from a simply a Hindu celebration to an event that allows friends from all cultures to get together and dress up to dance the night away. Last year, speculation that Garba wouldn’t be feasible to celebrate amidst lockdown worried several members of our South Asian-American community. To many’s disappointment, Garba weekends” across the nation were forced to cancel, including the ones hosted at our very own High School North. It is almost impossible to truly embrace this festival without directly violating all guidelines regarding COVID-19, yet it was a decision that had to be taken.
Hindus, who were also observing the religious holiday of Diwali, had to work around the mass gatherings which usually come about during the season. As per tradition, Diwali is celebrated with friends and extended family as opposed to within the direct family itself. The holiday consists of a religious prayer (known as a pooja), which is conducted indoors, followed by dinner, and fireworks. As November 14th (Diwali) came closer, Hindus needed to plan ahead to avoid crowding in temples and in in-house prayer rooms, which could potentially put themselves and others at risk of catching the virus. Similarly, Thanksgiving, a holiday primarily spent at a packed dinner table, is followed by Black Friday, which consists of shopping in malls full of swarms of people, both of which posed similar if not worse threats to public health.
Evidently, the pandemic has put into question how we can celebrate our religious and cultural festivals with regulations and protocols in the way. What used to be the most anticipated times of the year, from Halloween till New Years, now feels like just another season. Still, after the shortcomings of 2020, it only felt natural for many to celebrate as the clock striked midnight on December 31st around the world.
Personally, we feel as though overcoming the challenges 2020 has presented us warrants celebration in 2021. However, it would be naive to indulge in our desire to meet with people indoors and unmasked. The development of a vaccine has brought about a new sense of confidence among many, but the loosening of restrictions is still premature. Before we look to reward ourselves with house parties, we must remember the 385K who have died, and the thousands of others who were not able to go back to their family for the holidays, and still aren’t. The burning reality is that unless we make the tough decisions of skipping out on our first few holidays this year too, we may not be able to celebrate them “normally” any time in the foreseeable future. Sometimes it’s just about being the bigger person, even if what you’re up against is a global pandemic.