How to Safely Spend Time with Grandchildren on Grandparent’s Day (or Any Day)

Q. Grandparent’s Day is this Sunday and I would love for my children to see their grandparents. One set of grandparents are close by and have helped take care of them in the past, but are hesitant this year because of coronavirus. However, they are considering having us over this Sunday for a cookout. Another set lives far away, and we were hoping to possibly see them in the not so distant future for my husband’s birthday. What is the best way for grandchildren to safely see their grandparents during the pandemic?

A. Grandparents Day is coming up this Sunday, Sept. 13. As you know, staying connected with loved ones, especially seniors, remains a challenge during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Early in the pandemic, health experts warned older adults to limit contact with children. No matter how much you love them, children are known for spreading germs. And older adults are at higher risk of dying from COVID-19. This warning hasn’t changed.

Grandparents as Caregivers

For many families, grandparents have been the go-to for child care because they are trustworthy, loving, and reliable. But this is no ordinary fall. In the midst of a pandemic, and with many families having to balance work and a child’s school schedule that is all remote learning right now, grandparents or other older relatives may be asked to step in and help. Grandparents not only watch their grandchildren but also supervise their online learning. Grandparents are helping with activities such as checking schoolwork, supervising study time, and creating educational games.

Many grandparents, similar to your parents, are hesitant to help this year and many adult children are hesitant to ask, which is completely understandable given the risks involved.

The Science of COVID-19

Researchers are learning more about the COVID-19 virus as time progresses. One aspect of the disease that has become clearer is that children are not immune from getting infected, as some first thought. Children older than 10 can get COVID-19 and can transmit it to others just as well as adults can. As for children under age 10, the science so far shows they too can get infected, but there’s uncertainty about whether they get infected at the same rate as adults.

“What we can definitely say is that children can get infected. They’re often asymptomatic, which is really problematic so you don’t know if they’re infected,” Thomas A. Russo, MD, professor of medicine and chief of the Division of Infectious Diseases at The University of Buffalo said. “The fact that we can detect the virus at high levels, in fact higher than adults, makes me believe that there is zero question that they’re infectious, whether they’re absolutely as infectious as adults and children older than 10 or not hasn’t been absolutely established.”

When Grandparents Want to See Their Grandchildren

Grandparents miss their grandchildren, and vice versa. If you are hoping to bring your children to your parents’ house, these are some things to consider during interactions to optimize safety:

Masks: Try to have the child wear a mask and the grandparents should wear a mask, as well. They should also obviously practice social distancing. Even though respiratory spread is the primary mode, it’s also still important to maintain hand hygiene.
Eye protection: Right now, it’s not recommended that children younger than age 2 wear masks. If not everyone is wearing a mask, scientists recommend grandparents should also wear eye protection. Eye protection could be regular glasses or sunglasses, but for more protection, it should be wrap-around goggles or those tight-fitting swimmer goggles, if possible.
Outdoors vs. indoors: Generally speaking, being outside is better than being inside. That’s because the larger air volume disperses the virus and it’s easier to keep a physical distance of 6 feet or more – even though that can be tough for grandparents and grandchildren. It is wise to wear masks outdoors as well as indoors.
Car rides: Turn off the air conditioning and open the windows to get good ventilation. If a grandparent needs to be in a car with a child, have the child and grandparent wear masks. If the child can’t wear a mask, scientists recommend have the grandparent also wear eye protection, as described previously.

Thinking About Visiting Grandparents Who Are Out of Town?

Dr. Benjamin Singer, a pulmonologist and an assistant professor of pulmonary and critical care medicine at Northwestern University’s Feinberg School of Medicine offered advice for those who are visiting grandparents who are out of town:

Review the latest travel restrictions: Be sure you understand whether you will be required to quarantine upon return. Travel restrictions may also influence your thinking about whether it’s safe for you to travel into certain states if the number of COVID-19 cases there is high.

Try to self-quarantine as much as possible for two weeks before your visit. Testing may be useful, but keep in mind that it takes anywhere from two to seven days to get results. It’s also possible to acquire the virus between the time of testing and your trip, so try to isolate as much as possible after getting tested.
Plan your route: Although auto accidents are far more common than plane crashes, driving is probably safer from an infectious disease standpoint. If the destination will require stops for food and gas, be sure to wear a mask, clean your hands, and maintain social distance. Singer also suggests some form of eye protection, such as a face shield.
While you’re visiting, stay home as much as possible and limit the number of people you interact with.
Make sure you and your family are up to date on vaccines. As we head into cold and flu season, this is especially important. Grandparents should get the flu shot and pneumonia vaccine, if eligible.

Remember: The best tools we have right now to limit the spread of the novel coronavirus are masks (worn over the nose and mouth), hand-washing, and maintaining social distance.

Use Your Best Judgement

If you do decide to visit grandparents near or far, be extra careful and use your best judgement. If you do not feel comfortable, you can always connect with your loved one using video technology such as Facetime or Zoom. This way your loved one(s) will know you are there and that you care.

Plan for Yourself and Your Loved Ones at this Time

During this time, it is as important as ever to plan in advance. If you have not done Long-Term Care Planning, Estate Planning, or Incapacity Planning (or had your planning documents reviewed in the past several years), or if you have a loved one who is nearing the need for long-term care or already receiving long-term care, please call us to make an appointment for an initial consultation:

Elder Care Attorney Fairfax: 703-691-1888
Elder Care Attorney Fredericksburg: 540-479-1435
Elder Care Attorney Rockville: 301-519-8041
Elder Care Attorney DC: 202-587-2797

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About Evan H Farr, CELA, CAP

Evan H. Farr is a 4-time Best-Selling author in the field of Elder Law and Estate Planning. In addition to being one of approximately 500 Certified Elder Law Attorneys in the Country, Evan is one of approximately 100 members of the Council of Advanced Practitioners of the National Academy of Elder Law Attorneys and is a Charter Member of the Academy of Special Needs Planners.