How to Safely Visit Older Relatives During the Coronavirus Pandemic
Visiting older family members during the pandemic is possible with thought, planning and preparation.
One of the constant refrains during the coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic has been that older age groups have an increased risk of infection and serious illness if they contract the virus. And that’s meant a lot of separation between kids and grandparents.
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After six long months — and with the holidays around the corner — it may be tempting, though, to pay your older family members a visit, to say hi and let the kids see them again after a tough time apart.
Geriatric medicine specialist Ardeshir Hashmi, MD, says that such a visit is possible, albeit with a lot of careful planning and precautions, and he told us what it takes to make such a gathering possible — and safe.
First and foremost, Dr. Hashmi says you have to be on top of your own health first, which includes making sure you’re not showing any coronavirus symptoms. If you do, well, you better put that trip on hold. “It would be important to have ourselves checked and also be very judicious about waiting so that the symptoms are not with us for a good period of time,” he says.
But the precautions don’t stop with you. Even if you’ve been symptom-free for 14 days and you’re ready to go visit your older relatives, you should also keep their health top of mind, too.
That’s because, according to Dr. Hashmi, of that elevated risk of contracting the virus in older age groups, not to mention the higher mortality rate. These older members of your family are also more likely to have a condition that has a high co-morbidity with the virus, like cancer or heart disease or take medication that suppresses their immune systems.
If your family members have these conditions, and especially if there are multiple issues at play, Dr. Hashmi suggests reconsidering the visit.
If everyone’s health is at a level that makes a visit safe, you’ll need to be on top of all the necessary social distancing guidelines. These can vary by city and state so if long-distance travel is involved, you’ll also need to account for additional logistics such as mode of transportation (car versus an airplane, for instance) and any lodging accommodations you’ll need.
If you’re visiting older family members in a nursing home or retirement community, those locales will likely have their own set of guidelines, too.
Ideally, your visit can take place outdoors to help increase physical distance and to decrease the likelihood of letting any possibly virus-laden air droplets hang around. If you have to meet inside, try to open a window or two to help increase the circulation of fresh air.
And, again, don’t forget about the six-foot distance and masks to help ensure as safe an environment as possible.
“It’s still a visit but a different visit where the solid core guidelines of frequent hand washing, hand sanitization with alcohol-based preps, social distancing of at least six feet away and wearing masks, I think, are absolutely key,” said Dr. Hashmi.