Aging Parents And Thanksgiving: What You Can Do About Safety

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Despite CDC warnings urging us not to travel, millions of people will still be visiting with their families this Thanksgiving. Yes, it’s high risk. Yes, aging parents are more likely to get seriously ill if exposed to Covid-19 from a family member who carries the virus without feeling any symptoms. Nonetheless, families may choose to take the risk. Some do not appreciate the danger. Some think the risk is worth it. Some do all they can to make the visit as safe as possible. If you are one of those who are going to travel and who want to minimize the danger with aging parents, consider these modifications of what to do in the midst of a raging pandemic.

  1. Keep it short. Hanging out together indoors for days will only increase the possible disease exposure. For example, if Johnny, who lives in one state gets on a plane to another state and comes to see his family, including grandparents, he may feel fine. But he has no way of knowing whether he picked up the virus in the airport, bus, taxi or train. He could unwittingly spread the virus to his elders while he feels totally well. If he has a meal with his elders for two hours and he then leaves or they do, at least he is keeping the threat lower than if he spends a few days indoors with them.
  1. Wear that mask. Yes it’s weird to wear a mask in the house and it seems awkward, but it’s a safety measure anyone can adopt in this situation. Think of it as one simple device you control that can keep parents and grandparents safer than if you didn’t wear it. There is no rational debate about whether masks protect others from virus you, yourself can spread simply by breathing. The virus attaches to those microscopic droplets in your breath. When it’s cold enough outside for you to see that cloud that is your breath, that’s what I mean. Moisture droplets are there whether you see them or not. They are little transmission vehicles for Covid-19, floating on the air. That’s how disease spreads without you knowing it.
  2. Sit far apart for the Thanksgiving meal. Get or find the longest table you can and/or space everyone so you’re not face to face. At least you won’t be breathing directly onto the others in close proximity there. Small adjustments could minimize the extent of exposure. Restaurants, when they were open, did this. You can too. And it is “unnatural” but so what? So is this virus.
  3. Wash your hands every time you move from one place to another, and after you touch things. Rather than passing dishes around from person to person, have one person (masked) serving up the plates. Again, this one small adjustment can reduce risk and that’s the point.

No matter how strongly we may feel about being together with family, it’s a judgment call about whether to do it or not during these very treacherous times. If you do decide to risk it, please avoid pretending that everything is normal. As a former public health nurse, I can only say that it’s hard to understand rapid airborne transmission unless you’ve had experience with it as I have. I speak for safety for aging parents and grandparents, who may not set any rules about this themselves. Advocating for safety is my job, in the advice business at AgingParents.com.

In my own house, it will be a Thanksgiving dinner for just three: two aging parents, which means me and my husband, and our daughter, who is part of our “bubble”, carefully restricting her contacts with others. We can’t be with our son who is in a different part of the state. We can’t invite friends. It’s sad, but I accept the sadness for now. I look forward to spring, when we hope for vaccines and a family visit with all of us present. Meanwhile, we’ll share a drink together on zoom and keep hope alive.

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I wish each one of you reading this a good Thanksgiving, however limited it may have to be this time. Caution is worth it.

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