Infection rates in India have been extraordinarily high lately; there’s a reason that the C.D.C. advises against travel there. At the same time, the general incidence of “breakthrough” Covid cases among the vaccinated appears very low — and of serious illness far lower — and it disproportionately affects seniors. Although viral variants known to be circulating in India could worsen the risk profile, experts at the World Health Organization expect that the vaccines will still provide significant protection from them. If your husband is in the company of someone sickened by Covid, he can take the standard clinical precautions, including a mask (bona fide NIOSH-certified and F.D.A.-approved N95s are now readily available in this country) and, ideally, safety goggles.
Relationships have an ethics of their own, which isn’t reducible to a set of rational assessments.
The greater risk is that he’d bring infection back, not that he’d take infection there. All passengers from abroad must have a recent negative test result for Covid-19. Given the current scarcity of testing in India, it’s possible that this requirement could delay his departure. The available tests will typically be antigen tests, not the “gold standard” P.C.R. tests. To be on the safe side (and your chronic illness may be a factor here), he should take a P.C.R. test after his return, isolate himself and get a negative result before rejoining you. As for your travel-ban worries, there is reassurance in the fact that since February 2020, the United States has implemented a variety of pandemic-related travel restrictions, and none have barred U.S. citizens and permanent residents.
Keeping in touch with family members and comforting those who fall sick is a widely shared human concern, one that weighs heavily with your husband. And India’s second wave has indeed been harrowing. That country’s medical system has long been frail; its public spending on health care is roughly 1 percent of its G.D.P., a fraction of what its peers spend. Even with woefully inadequate medical support, however, a great majority of Covid cases in India, as elsewhere, will resolve themselves without serious harm. That’s one reason your husband would be well advised to comply with the travel guidance from the C.D.C.: It isn’t as if the relative who gets sick amid the pandemic has been given a death sentence. And then, as you suggest, our online era has enabled remote forms of intimacy once unimaginable. I have siblings in Namibia and Nigeria, countries that lack the health care resources many of us take for granted in the West, and count it a blessing that I can be with them, virtually, in sickness and health.
What’s striking is the symmetry of your mutual anxieties. If you fear the worst should your husband fly to Delhi, your husband fears the worst should a relative fall ill. Yet relationships have an ethics of their own, which isn’t reducible to a set of rational assessments. Love must be responsive to unreason. Your husband should take account of your own fears and needs, then, just as you should take account of his. In the end, however, the wisdom of preparing for the worst has its limits when — all things considered — it keeps us from doing what’s best.
Kwame Anthony Appiah teaches philosophy at N.Y.U. His books include ‘‘Cosmopolitanism,’’ ‘‘The Honor Code’’ and ‘‘The Lies That Bind: Rethinking Identity.’’ To submit a query: Send an email to firstname.lastname@example.org; or send mail to The Ethicist, The New York Times Magazine, 620 Eighth Avenue, New York, N.Y. 10018. (Include a daytime phone number.)