Now that the holidays are here and many COVID-related restrictions have been lifted across the country, many seniors are feeling ready and anxious to visit with their family.
Unfortunately, older adults are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 than their younger counterparts, which has made it difficult for seniors to safely visit family and grandchildren during the pandemic. Though it may be risky for older adults to spend time with their younger loved ones during the COVID-19 pandemic, visits during the holidays can still be made possible if everyone takes the necessary precautions to stay safe and limit their exposure to the virus.
Here are steps your family can take when you’re ready to visit with your loved ones and other older relatives during COVID-19 holidays.
Assess the COVID-19 Risk for the Grandparents
Before arranging any visits with grandparents, assess the possible COVID-19 risk based on age and on whether your relatives have any underlying medical conditions that may further increase their risk for severe illness from COVID-19.
The risk of severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age. The CDC reports that people aged 85 and older face the greatest risk of severe illness from COVID-19 and that 8 in 10 COVID-19-related deaths in the U.S. have been among adults aged 65 and older.
Your older relatives may be at even higher risk of severe illness COVID-19 if they have pre-existing conditions. If your loved ones are over the age of 65 and/or have one or more underlying medical conditions, you may want to reassess whether it’s a good idea to visit in person during the holidays in 2020.
Take COVID-19 Precautions Two Weeks Beforehand
Symptoms of COVID-19 can show up anywhere between 2 and 14 days after exposure, which means that if you’ve been exposed to the virus a few days before visiting your loved one, you may have COVID-19 and not even know it yet—putting your relatives at risk.
Try to limit your exposure to COVID-19 as best you can two weeks before your scheduled visit. Practice social distancing, wear a face mask, and limit outings or social gatherings. If possible, arrange to work from home to reduce the amount of time you spend near people from outside of your household. That way, when it’s time to visit mom and dad, you know that your chances of spreading COVID-19 are minimal and less likely.
Get Tested For COVID-19 Before the Visit
Consider having your family get tested for COVID-19 before visiting your loved one to confirm everyone is healthy. This will give each family member greater peace of mind. Many cities across the U.S. have sites that offer free COVID tests to anyone who wants one, while some cities are restricting COVID testing only to individuals at high risk for severe illness or who have recently been exposed to someone with COVID-19.
Look into local options for getting tested. If COVID testing isn’t available in your local area or you and your family members don’t qualify for testing, assess the infection rates where you live. If you live in a COVID hotspot or in an area where lots of new cases are reported every day, you may want to postpone your visit.
Prepare Your Children
Before visiting their grandparents, talk to your children about how this year’s visit will be different from previous visits in that physical contact will be limited. Your kids may be used to getting lots of hugs, snuggles, and kisses from grandma and grandpa, and may not understand why touching will be limited this year. Educate your kids about COVID-19, and explain the importance of social distancing and wearing face masks to protect their grandparents from the virus.
Travel By Car vs Plane if Possible
Though many airlines are now seating passengers at least 6 feet apart and requiring them to wear face masks, being on an airplane makes it difficult to keep a safe distance from flight attendants and other passengers. If possible, consider traveling by car instead of by plane, which will help limit in-person interactions and close distance with those outside of your household. Pack snacks and meals you can eat on the go (like sandwiches and wraps), and bring gloves and face masks to wear while stopping at restrooms and gas stations.
Make Your Loved One Stay at Home
Some seniors may be feeling antsy after sheltering in place and insist on traveling to visit you instead of letting you travel to them. However, this may be extremely risky for the senior, especially if they need to travel by plane.
Talk to your kids’ grandparents about the potential risks associated with traveling amid the COVID-19 pandemic, and insist that your family visit them. The fewer people your relatives come into contact with and the fewer public places they visit, the lower their risk will be for contracting COVID-19.
Practice Social Distancing and Wear Face Masks
Keep in mind that physical contact with anyone outside of your household should be limited to reduce exposure to COVID-19. Greet one another without touching, and continue to practice social distancing and wear face coverings during the entire visit. If you’re visiting during mealtime, eat outside if weather permits. If not, plan to eat before or after your visit, so that you do not have to remove your mask inside while visiting with your loved one. Some people may feel extremely uncomfortable in regards to avoiding all physical contact with their loved ones, which is completely normal. However, taking these precautions will help keep everyone in your family safe and healthy.
Don’t Share Living Spaces
Staying with your relatives when you visit may be fun, convenient, and inexpensive, but doing so is very risky for both your family and parents. Even if you quarantine for 14 days after arriving in town, experts still recommend staying in a nearby hotel or vacation rental to minimize COVID-19 exposure.
Before leaving home, research your options for hotels near your relatives and call the facilities to ask about their safety and sanitation policies related to COVID-19. Ask if your family can stay in a room that has been unoccupied for a few days, and consider cleaning and tidying up the room yourselves instead of allowing housekeeping services to enter the room. Also, avoid using community amenities during your stay such as the gym, hot tub, and swimming pool, as these amenities may not be sanitized as regularly as needed to reduce your exposure to COVID-19.
Limit Activities and Spend Time Outdoors
Most seniors enjoy treating their grandchildren to fun outings such as going to museums, toy stores, and theme parks, but venturing to any public places can increase their risk for contracting COVID-19. Instead of visiting indoor public places or venues that attract large crowds, suggest that everyone limit activities to outdoor venues that provide plenty of free-roaming space.
Go to local parks, visit the zoo, go on hikes or long walks, or have picnics. You could even suggest that your children’s grandparents sit in their vehicles while they watch their grandchildren play outside. Spend as much time outdoors as possible in places where you can easily practice social distancing and avoid large crowds.
Avoid Sharing Utensils and Other Objects
Given how COVID-19 can spread through saliva and from touching contaminated surfaces, take care to avoid sharing utensils, cups, and other objects with grandparents from which COVID-19 can be easily transmitted. To play it extra safe, use disposable plasticware and cups instead of your grandparents’ silverware and dishes.
Consider a Virtual Visit
Many families around the U.S. have started using video apps to visit and spend time with their loved ones from a safe distance. Instead of having an in-person visit, consider having regular phone calls and video conferences.
Host virtual family meals, movie nights, and game nights by pulling up video conferencing sessions that allow you to see and talk with one another during these family events. Suggest that your grandparents read bedtime stories to their grandchildren over the phone or during video chat sessions. You could also send your relatives photos and videos of their grandchildren via email or text.
Virtual visits are an ideal way to spend quality time with your loved ones during COVID-19 until the U.S. achieves herd immunity or develops a safe, effective vaccine. Keep in mind that although virtual visits may not be your preferred way to spend the holidays with your relatives, this may be the safest option for everyone, and may only be necessary for a short time.
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