I’ve slowly expanded my social bubble to include a few close friends, and I know they each also have a couple close friends in their social circles, and we’re all very careful. We follow the rules and for the most part have gotten together outdoors where we can have space between us.

With summer winding down, we are planning a trip to Seward. It started as just a few of us. But then a few other friends got included too. Last count, we’re up to about 10 people.

It also started as a camping trip, but that’s changed too. There are so many amazing deals right now, and last I heard, one of our group found and rented a pretty large house for us all to stay in. One of my friends just texted that she’s going to take the train down instead of drive and suggested others join her. The same friend is looking into a fishing charter or glacier cruise — again, so many cheap deals — and another friend is putting together a list of restaurants and bars that are open. Others are suggesting carpooling, when we originally agreed we should drive separately.

I know some of these things can be done safely, but it feels like a lot, and it just makes me nervous. I’m afraid if I back out or suggest different plans, I’ll upset people or come off like I’m being unreasonable. Advice?

Let me get this straight: What started as a few people on a camping trip has turned into a 10-person multi-day house party with shared vehicles, potential train rides, day trips and bar-hopping? Jeez, why are you nervous?

Kidding. Of course you’re nervous. Don’t feel weird about that! Look, for several months now we’ve been inundated with messages about keeping our distance and 6 feet and washing our hands, and now that some people are inching — or leaping — back toward the old normal, it’s weird. It just is. And it’s probably going to be a while before most of us can watch a movie that shows crowded rooms or people sharing food or someone coughing uncontrollably and we don’t cringe and think, COVID!

You have a million ways you could deal with this. If you’re flat-out uncomfortable with it, don’t go. If you feel uneasy about sharing your reasons, just say it’s bad timing for you, or you’re watching your budget. Or look for middle ground; rather than stay in the big communal house, bring your tent, camp solo and explain a night beneath the stars was your big reason for going.

Above all, give yourself a break. It is completely normal that this situation would leave you feeling anxious or apprehensive. If your friends are really your friends, they’ll understand that without judging you.

Or, Option 3: Tell them the truth. Your once thoughtful and thorough, fun and freeing plans exploded into a full-blown, come-one, come-all Seward-palooza. And your friends’ respective tiny bubbles are inflating into a fleet of hot air balloons filled with potential COVID-19 exposure — breath, droplets, surfaces, etc. And you’re just not cool with that.

And no, that’s not unreasonable. I appreciate the excitement of an upcoming weekend getaway with besties after six months of masking, hunkering and distancing. But we’re still in the middle of a pandemic here: 170,000 Americans dead, 5.4 million Americans with confirmed cases. And our fellow Alaskans haven’t exactly been standout examples of flattening any curves. So barhopping in a small tourism-and-fishing town that’s already had some COVID-19 scares is playing with fire. I’ve read horror stories of survivors’ experiences of being body-slammed by COVID-19 and I don’t want my body or my circle to have anything to do with it.

You’ve all been so safe, smart and stringent for so long that I wonder if any of your friends are also feeling similar pressure and stress from this sudden mess. If so, how about pitch to the group that you and those of like mind can simply stick to the original plan. Meet down there. Go camping. Take a hike, kayak trip or glacier tour — many businesses are limiting space on their vessels, citing passenger health and safety. Grab takeout to support a local restaurant. Space yourselves around the campfire for nightcaps as fall darkness and cool air descends on us. Sounds like an amazing, and safe, AK late-summer staycation to me.

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