January 24, 2022

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Omicron, the unwelcome guest at this year’s SoCal Christmas – Los Angeles Times

4 min read

Last year was a lonely Christmas for Michi Chang and her family. The coronavirus kept them from celebrating the holiday with family and friends.

But the COVID-19 vaccines brought some sense of normalcy into their lives this year. They celebrated Christmas with family and friends and drove from their Walnut home to Wrightwood so that her two girls, ages 11 and 5, could go tubing.

“We’ve been stuck at home for too long because of COVID,” she said. “We’re working from home, they’ve been studying from home, everything has been from home, so we wanted to come out and spend time with friends.”

But none of that meant Chang wasn’t thinking about the highly contagious Omicron variant that has been spreading across the state.

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“I’m worried about it, but I still want to do normal things like hanging out with friends,” Chang said, adding that she and her family are vaccinated.

Nearly two years into the pandemic, Southern California families are navigating another holiday season with the COVID-19 pandemic touching every aspect of their lives, including last-minute cancellations or disruptions as the Omicron variant leads to a surge in COVID-19 cases.

There were nearly 10,000 cases of COVID in Los Angeles County as of the most recent count Friday. As of Saturday afternoon, 83 flights at Los Angeles International Airport were canceled, disrupting holiday travel for hundreds of families.

“We put ourselves through so much for two years, I would just hate to blow it now.”

Beverly Grove resident Danielle Peters

Some families have sought to create new traditions or have clung to familiar ones. Others have opted to cancel gatherings altogether because of uncertainty or a positive COVID test result, while still others closed their celebrations off to a small group as they await test results.

At Danielle Peters’ Beverly Grove home, the pies, macaroni and cheese, and whole ham were ready to go for Christmas Day.

But just two days before, she and her husband were still struggling to secure COVID tests to take before they had more than a dozen guests over. When they found it impossible to secure tests, they decided on Friday to cancel the gathering.

“We put ourselves through so much for two years, I would just hate to blow it now,” Peters said. Instead of having family and friends over, they opened presents in the morning and were planning to head to Big Bear on Sunday to enjoy the Christmas feast, she said. A family gathering will need to wait.

“When the weather’s better and things aren’t surging, we’ll do some form of Christmas,” Peters said.

In Wrightwood, Franky Ortega and his family were preparing to start on their next activity of the day: building a snowman.

“My son wants to do two,” he said. “We got shovels, carrots, scarfs and we’re going to use rocks or twigs for the eyes.”

He said that planning activities last year around COVID-19 restrictions was difficult. He was grateful that this year was less restrictive, in part because people were getting vaccinated. He said he and everyone in his family, with the exception of his 7-year-old son, was vaccinated. He also tries to take precautions while doing outdoor activities with family. Despite COVID-19 still posing a threat, he said he has noticed people more at ease about gathering.

“This year I see people pushing hard for holiday get-togethers even from people you wouldn’t have expected,” he said.

In South Pasadena, Denise and her family — for privacy reasons, she asked not to use her last name — had planned to celebrate her husband’s birthday on Friday with champagne and oysters and have guests over for Christmas the next day to open presents and enjoy a meal. But on Christmas Eve morning, her husband woke up sneezing, and a COVID test confirmed he was positive, she said, derailing their plans. Denise and their two children tested negative.

Instead of a family celebration, her husband ate oysters at home alone while she took their 1-year-old and 5-year-old out of the house. Denise said she and her husband are both vaccinated and received COVID booster shots last week and that his symptoms have been mild. Still, on Christmas morning, her husband stood in the corner of their apartment wearing a mask and face shield as their children opened presents.

“It was very bizarre,” Denise said. The experience has been emotionally draining for the family, she said. She is waiting to get tested again on Monday.

In Culver City, Eileen Dorn met up with other instructors at Alliance Culver City for a Christmas Day workout tradition. For nine years, Dorn, who is Jewish, said she and other trainers have met for a workout session that is usually followed by a trip to a Chinese restaurant and a movie in a theater. This year, Dorn is sticking to takeout with her family and a movie at home, but she said it was nice to hang on to a familiar tradition.

“We all anticipated that this year would be different, and it’s proving to not be that way, so it’s nice to kind of hold on to one little bit that is still normal and safe,” she said.

Times photographer Irfan Khan contributed to this report.

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