It’s an enormous understatement to say that the pandemic has upended lives across the country and the planet. People have been forced to change their routines; exercise extreme caution; and handle as well as they can the economical, medical, and personal effects of COVID-19.
Nowhere is that more apparent than with how we visit and interact with the members of our family who may be at higher risk for the disease. Specifically, elderly members of our family have had to deal with fewer visits and new precautions. As we move swiftly through the holiday season, these precautions have led many to debate whether it’s even possible to visit their parents, grandparents, or other older family members.
This article is not here to say whether you should or not. The situation with COVID remains fluid, and you must follow your local, state, and federal guidelines in all the actions that you take. However, if you are planning on visiting your family, there are some ways to make it safer for them and yourself.
Why It’s Important To Take Extra Precautions
COVID-19 affects people differently. Some may have it and never even realize it. Others may have to deal with severe illness. One of the strongest correlations with severe illness is age.
Those over 85 years old are at the most significant risk of experiencing severe illness after contracting COVID. That doesn’t mean, though, that those younger than that have free rein to live their lives as they always have. According to the Center for Disease Control, the vast majority of deaths from COVID, around 80%, come from people 65 and older.
Among people diagnosed with COVID, those 50 and older have at least 30 times the death rate of people between the ages of 18 and 29. Hospitalization rates also increase as you look at increasing age cohorts.
These numbers can become even more dramatic if your loved one is dealing with an underlying medical condition. Already existing respiratory issues can trigger severe outcomes. Those dealing with diseases or medications that suppress the immune system will be at the highest risk. In these situations, even if visits are technically allowed, it may best to conduct a virtual gathering instead of visiting in-person.
Make Sure To Assess the Risk and Plan Ahead
Before visiting, you should take time to assess the risk and consider what precautions are needed. You can check your local news to see what the state of COVID is in your local area and where you plan to visit. You should also continually check these conditions as the situation is always changing.
If your family members live in an assisted care facility, visitors may not be allowed inside. Plan on giving the facility a call ahead of time to understand what its visiting process is and what options are available. The facility may also appreciate the advanced notice so employees can prepare for your visit and ensure it’s as safe as possible for you, your family members, and other residents.
Should your family members live out of town or out of state, you’ll need to take extreme precautions and decide on a mode of transportation that best limits the risk of contracting COVID-19. While many airlines have deemed their planes safe due to mask requirements, advanced filtration systems, and recurring air circulation, the airport itself can be crowded and lack these state-of-the-art measures.
If you travel by car, you’ll have the luxury of not needing to come into contact with anyone. Although, if the trip is long enough, you may still need to get gas, use the bathroom, or stop inside a convenience store for food or beverages.
As part of your planning ahead, it can be helpful to take a COVID test before leaving for your visit. Of course, it should be noted that a test is only accurate as of the moment it was taken. If you engage in risky behaviors after receiving a negative result on your test, you are still at risk of contracting the disease and passing it on to your loved ones.
Some states are also requiring out-of-state visitors to self-quarantine for up to 14 days upon arrival. This is not always strictly enforced, but lack of enforcement shouldn’t be thought of as permission to break the rule.
General Guidelines for Visiting Elderly Family
If you understand the risks, researched the COVID positivity rates at both your departing and arriving destinations, and intricately planned out your visit to avoid harmful behavior, it’s understandable to want to visit your loved ones. That said, even upon your visit, you should still take some common-sense preventative measures to keep your elderly family members safe:
Wear a mask at all times, even inside.
Stay at least 6 feet apart from your loved ones.
Keep hugs as short as possible and don’t hug face to face.
If weather and temperatures permit, try to keep the visit outside. A walk is a great way to talk, get some sunshine, and stay socially distant.
Wash your hands regularly and effectively, especially before preparing, serving, or eating food.
Remain vigilant in your preventative measures.
Humans need touch, love, and person-to-person interactions to stay happy and healthy. However, during the pandemic, those basic emotional requirements are all high risk. There’s no shame in wanting to visit your elderly family members and no shame in actually visiting them, either. Taking COVID seriously, though, is the best way to ensure that you can continue to visit, hug, and laugh as soon as possible.