What You Need to Know About Visiting Loved Ones Who Are More Vulnerable During COVID-19May 8, 2020 - Katie McCallum
After several months of swapping in-person gatherings for video calls, you're probably very ready to see your close friends and family again.
But public health officials warn that the new coronavirus will be among us for some time. This means that individuals who are high risk for developing a more severe case of COVID-19 should continue to be extra cautious, and that everyone must remain committed to social distancing, wearing a cloth mask and practicing excellent hand hygiene.
This may leave you wondering whether it's safe to see people who are more vulnerable, such as your parents, grandparents, or loved ones or friends with chronic health conditions.
Right now, the safest thing you can do for yourself and your loved ones is to continue to social distance and stay at home.
If you’re still considering socializing in person, here are three questions to ask yourself before visiting a family member or friend during the COVID-19 pandemic:
Is he or she high risk?
Anyone can get COVID-19, but some people are more likely to end up in the hospital, or even the ICU, while ill with this new virus.
Those at highest risk of developing severe illness include people who are over the age of 65, are immunocompromised or have one or more of the following underlying health conditions:
- Lung disease
- Moderate-to-severe asthma
- Advanced heart disease
- Chronic kidney disease
- Liver disease
There are nuances to being high risk, though, and it's important to consider age in the context of a person's whole health. For instance, if your parent is a 65-year-old who is overweight and diabetic, he or she has a higher risk (and, therefore, should be more cautious) than a very healthy 65-year-old. If your 45-year-old sister has an immune deficiency, her health condition alone puts her at higher risk.
If your friend or family member is considered high risk, know that he or she is likely taking extra precautions to stay safe during the COVID-19 pandemic — including staying home as much as possible.
In particular, it's probably best to try to avoid contact with people whose immune system is compromised. This includes people who are undergoing certain cancer treatments, have recently had an organ transplant or bone marrow transplant, have poorly-controlled HIV or AIDS or are taking high doses of corticosteroids or other immunosupressant medications.
At the end of the day, there's nothing like seeing a loved one in person. But, remember, there are plenty of digital tools to help you stay connected with your family and friends who are more vulnerable to developing a severe case of COVID-19.
What's your likelihood of exposure to the virus?
It goes without saying, but you should avoid contact with others — especially those who are high risk — if you're sick.
But, if you're healthy and symptom-free, are you in clear? It depends.
Experts estimate that about 25% of people who are infected with coronavirus show no symptoms — but are still able to spread the virus. This means that you can be contagious even if you feel fine. The likelihood of unknowingly spreading COVID-19 increases as your likelihood of exposure to the virus increases.
If you're practicing social distancing, staying home as often as possible and wearing a cloth mask when you do go out, your likelihood of exposure to coronavirus is likely fairly low.
But if you work in a setting where you frequently interact with people who are sick, such as a hospital, or where social distancing is challenging, like a grocery store, your likelihood of exposure is likely higher. In addition, if you're not practicing social distancing, you may also have a higher likelihood of being exposed to coronavirus.
Before visiting someone who is vulnerable, ask yourself: Does my job or lifestyle put me at higher risk of exposure to coronavirus? If the answer is "yes," consider a video call instead of an in-person visit.
What will your visit look like?
If you do decide to take the risk and visit a loved one or friend, plan for it to look quite a bit different than usual. You’ll need to maintain six feet between yourself, your loved one and other guests, as well as avoid going into the person’s home.
Here are things to consider to keep your vulnerable friend or loved one as safe as possible during your visit:
Socialize outside. Right now, it’s best to avoid visiting with vulnerable loved ones indoors. The easiest place to maintain social distancing and avoid spreading the virus via commonly touched surfaces is in a large outdoor space like a backyard.
Visit by yourself or in a very small group. When planning a visit, try to keep it one-on-one. At the very least, you’ll want to keep the gathering small and limit the number of households that are coming together. You may also want to consider wearing a mask as an added layer of protection — even if maintaining social distancing isn't a concern.
Don't share food or drinks. In fact, you may want to bring everything you might need during your visit. Think of it like a picnic — bringing your own food, drinks, eating utensils and hand sanitizer. Everything you bring should either be thrown out before leaving or taken home with you.
Avoid touching common surfaces whenever possible. While close contact is the most likely way to spread COVID-19, the virus can also survive on surfaces. Even during an outdoor gathering, you may find yourself heading indoors to use the restroom. While in a vulnerable person’s home, be sure to limit the surfaces you touch and practice proper hand washing techniques.
Keep your visit short. You may want to spend all day catching up with your loved one, but the shorter your visit, the better. The more time you spend in close contact with someone, the greater the chance of spreading COVID-19 if you have it and don’t yet know it.
Concerned you may have COVID-19?
- If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.
This article was updated on July 10, 2020 to reflect the current state of the evolving COVID-19 pandemic.