Grandparents are a vital part of our families, with some living nearby or even in the same household — and others serve as primary caregivers for their grandchildren while adults head to work each day.
But in this age of coronavirus, when those over the age of 60 are more at risk of death or severe illness due to COVID-19, is it ever safe for grand-kids to see their grandparents?
Can grandparents take care of grandchildren during the coronavirus outbreak?
With so many parents having to work from home or continue going to essential jobs with their children out of school, it’s tempting to keep Granny on call when you need to finish a work presentation or write a report for colleagues. Unfortunately, this isn’t a safe idea, say the experts.
“As one ages, the immune function wanes and is unable to ward off microbes — and this, along with superimposed co-morbid conditions like diabetes, places older people at a higher risk of getting the coronavirus,” says Rajeev Fernando, M.D., an infectious disease specialist in Southampton, New York, and member of the What to Expect Medical Review Board.
Of course, you’re taking all the recommended precautions, including washing hands frequently, covering mouths when coughing and sneezing and keeping your distance from others when in public. But even with these smart health moves, little kids can still spread the coronavirus.
In fact, a recent study in Pediatrics determined that 13 percent of children who were diagnosed with COVID-19 didn’t show any symptoms — which means a toddler in the care of her grandmother could unwittingly infect her, even though the child isn’t displaying a fever or cough. Another potential concern: In a CDC Clinician Outreach and Communication Activity webinar earlier this month, experts noted that it’s possible that children might shed the virus for longer than adults.
Even a quick visit to see grandparents isn’t recommended, says Dr. Fernando. “As difficult as it is, aggressive social distancing is what’s going to slow the curve of this disease in America. And while COVID-19 seems to rarely cause infections in children, kids can certainly pass the virus to their grandparents,” he explains.
To protect your whole family from the coronavirus, keep the follow safety measures in mind:
Wash hands frequently. “If you must be in contact with the elderly, follow strict hand hygiene, use Clorox wipes to clean surfaces and maintain a distance of six feet,” says Dr. Fernando. Good hand-washing tips include using soap and water for at least 20 seconds every time you return from a public place and especially after sneezing or coughing.
Cancel planned visits. If you currently live apart from your child’s grandparents, putting yourself and your kids into self-isolation for a while before an upcoming visit isn’t recommended. Getting together with the elderly shouldn’t happen any time soon, notes Dr. Fernando. “We’re still on the upswing of infections right now, with steadily more cases being discovered, which means there’s more of the virus in our community,” he says.
Continue to connect. Don’t forget — the phone still works in these trying times, and it’s a safe way to communicate with a beloved Grandma or Grandpa. Plan a weekly call to the elderly and if grandparents have a smartphone, set up a FaceTime session so you can see each other when you talk.
Send letters and artwork. You can still send mail to grandparents, no matter where they live, so let your little ones create drawings and other works of art to send (as a bonus, it will help keep tots entertained inside during the outbreak). Older kids can take a break from remote learning to pen letters that’ll cheer both the sender and the recipient.
Practice self-care. During stressful times, it’s easy to forgo a healthy lifestyle, but taking care of yourself is especially important now. Reach out to friends and family (again, via FaceTime) to talk about the stress you’re dealing with so it doesn’t trickle down into your parenting. You can also set a good example for your kids by eating well, exercising and getting enough sleep.
Not seeing Grandma and Grandpa is hard, especially at this difficult time, but because the coronavirus will be with us for many weeks and months to come, it’s smart for little ones to keep their distance. And once this crisis is over, you can plan a reunion and resume normal activities with grandparents.