How to Safely Visit Family and Friends During COVID-19

It’s been nearly three months since the novel coronavirus pandemic shuttered the country and separated families. As states lift stay-at-home orders and businesses reopen, many Americans will want to resume pre-pandemic life—which includes visiting older or immunocompromised family.

a person standing in front of a window: Many families have been separated for months and are eager for physical visits. Here's what you should consider before visiting older relatives.© Justin Paget – Getty Images Many families have been separated for months and are eager for physical visits. Here’s what you should consider before visiting older relatives.

It’s understandable that families want to enjoy each other’s company outside of Zoom. But how safe is it to visit older or more vulnerable family members or friends?

Without a vaccine, visiting older family and friends remains risky, says K.C. Rondello, M.D., Clinical Associate Professor of Public Health & Emergency Management at Adelphi University.

People over 65 and those with underlying conditions like diabetes, heart or lung disease, are susceptible to having severe complications from COVID-19.

Ultimately, it’s up to individual families to determine if—and when—they want to risk physical visits.

“There will never be a time when some government agency says, ‘Ok, you’re good to go,'” says Dr. Rondello. “There will never be that sort of announcement, so determining when the right time is and pulling the trigger is a question that many people are going to increasingly face.”

We asked Dr. Rondello what you should consider when navigating the risks of visiting an older or immunocompromised family member.

Is it safe to travel to see family?

Flying or taking mass transit may cancel out social distancing measures you’ve already practiced, since you could contract COVID-19 from a sick passenger or from a well passenger who’s carrying the virus. Dr. Rondello says it’s less risky to make local trips where you can drive directly to a relative’s house without stopping. If you stop for gas, try to maintain social distancing and use hand sanitizer after handling the pump.

If you need to fly, consider taking an extended trip. Dr. Rondello recommends spending a full 14 days in quarantine before visiting an older family member.

“After that quarantine period, then you can have your visit in a safe manner,” he says.

What measures should you take before visiting family?

You want to take certain precautions that lower the risk of your family and friends getting sick. Here’s how, according to Dr. Rondello:

  • Practice strict social distancing before, meaning don’t see other friends, eat at a sit-down restaurant, or go to a gym. It’s also a good idea to monitor your symptoms.
  • Bring a list of what you need for the visit. If you plan on sharing a meal, treat the experience like a picnic and bring prepared food, cups, utensils, and plates. Cooking in a relative’s kitchen puts them at a higher risk of getting sick, since you’re touching pots, pants, and surfaces.
  • Refrain from hugging, kissing, and touching. It’s best to keep the standard six-feet apart and to wear a mask during your visit.
  • Keep the visit short, as prolonged exposure increases the chances of passing the novel coronavirus. Dr. Rondello says 15 minutes is best if you want to be cautious.
  • Stay outdoors if possible. “Your own home and certainly the home of a vulnerable family member is intended to be a sanctuary,” says Dr. Rondello. Take off your shoes, wash your hands, and avoid touching things as much as possible if you do go inside someone’s house. Be sure to take your trash with you, too.
  • Have a conversation with children to set expectations before the visit. Let them know following certain rules is important to keep your loved ones safe. Try saying, “We’re doing this because we’re trying to protect Grandma. We’re doing this out of love,” suggests Dr. Rondello.

Visiting a vulnerable family or friend can be stressful—don’t let that stop you from enjoying the moment.

“You’ve made the decision to go, so get the greatest value on that visit that you can,” says Dr. Rondello.

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