Whether your parents and in-laws are asking if they can stop by or your kids are missing grandma and grandpa and it’s breaking your heart) you may be wondering, is it safe to have grandparents over yet? “The safest [thing] is to gather only with your household members,” Gabriela Andujar Vazquez, MD, Infectious Disease Physician and Associate Hospital Epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center, tells Romper via email.
Not to be a total downer , but in the age of COVID, it’s impossible to guarantee complete “safety” for an in-person gathering, though there are some ways to gather that may be less risky than others. “If individuals insist on gathering with people outside household members, they should follow state mandates on the limit of people permitted to gather in an indoor space (outdoors is always preferred, if [possible]), they should wear a mask at all times and if they need to take off the mask to eat or drink, they should make sure they are at least 6-feet apart from everyone,” Dr. Andujar Vazquez says, and adds the practicing good hand hygiene is also essential. .
Of course, there are many factors involved with grandparents coming over at any point during the coronavirus pandemic. You’ll want to consider things like the relative age and health of your parents or in-laws (they may be high-risk), what the case count is like in your county (this is a helpful tool for tracking that) and whether or not grandparents will be traveling a distance or spending the night. If they are sleeping over, The Centers For Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) guidelines advise that visitors wash their clothing and masks upon arrival, and stow their suitcases away from everyone else. And, apologies to the dog or cat-loving grandparents and the family karaoke fans out there, but the CDC says that pets should not interact with people outside of the household and the singing or shouting should be avoided. They also recommend improving ventilation inside by opening windows and doors or “by placing central air and heating on continuous circulation.”
It may be cold where you live, but outdoor gatherings are always the least risky (you could break out the heaters or make a fire to keep things cozy). If you have your mind made up about seeing grandparents in-person, you could also make the visit shorter this year; instead of dinner or brunch, you could invite grandma and grandpa for playtime (again, ideally outside), where everyone can reliably stay masked. Andujar Vazquez says it’s essential that everyone knows not to attend if they’re feeling even slightly off or have been recently exposed to someone with COVID-19.
And what if everyone has been tested before coming over? That's a good start, but as William Schaffner, M.D, Professor of Preventive Medicine and Infectious Disease at the Vanderbilt University School of Medicine told Romper in a previous article, "Testing is useful, but like everything else, it has its limitations and imperfections. It's not an absolute because it only tells you something on that day [and] the rapid test, which is now becoming more widely available, has a lot of false negatives. So you have to do a whole series of [precautions] together." He also added that it's really important to give your kids (and probably your parents too, to be fair) an idea of how they can be affectionate this year. Sadly, there should be no kissing, and if there's hugging, it should be only once with kids hugging their grandparent around the waist to avoid close facial contact, Schaffner explained.
So what is the best way to see grandparents right now? "A virtual [gathering] is the safest way and I would recommend this to everyone for [now]," Andujar Vazquez tells Romper. You could make the Zoom session extra special by having a brunch together or playing a game.To see loved ones sooner rather than later, it's best to take precautions now. The vaccine is rolling out with older adults given priority, but even then, Dr. Mike Patrick, emergency medicine physician and general pediatrician at Nationwide Children’s Hospital told Romper in a previous article that we will need to stay vigilant about social distancing as, “we do not yet know if asymptomatic transmission is possible in vaccinated individuals.”
While advisable, it may not be realistic for kids not to see their grandparents at all, but whenever possible try to keep the meeting outside and distanced.
Gabriela Andujar Vazquez, MD, Infectious Disease Physician and Associate Hospital Epidemiologist at Tufts Medical Center
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