Protecting Vulnerable Family Members This Holiday Season

As someone who has a high-risk grandparent, I am cautious about where I go and who I associate with in the days preceding a visit. To ensure that I am negative, I always keep a supply of rapid at-home tests on hand. In the last two years, I’ve become acutely aware of environments that are unsuitable for a high-risk relative. My high-risk grandparent once lived with me, which resulted in the development of a cautious sixth sense.
As the holiday season approaches and we plan gatherings, keep your high-risk family members in mind. We show our loved ones we care in many ways, especially by taking all precautions necessary to keep them in good health.
Contrary to what many people assume, COVID-19 is still prevalent, especially in older people. With the upcoming holiday season, it is important to keep your elders in mind when heading home to celebrate. I have many elderly high-risk family members in my life, so I can sympathize with those who struggle taking the extra steps in terms of precautionary measures. Changing aspects of your everyday life may feel odd, but as uncomfortable as these measures may be, the safety of others is more important.
If you have guests who do not feel the precautions set in place are necessary, speak to them about why they feel this way, while reiterating that the plan is created to keep someone they love safe. In the end, do not adjust the event’s structure so much that your vulnerable family member is at risk. A few moments of discomfort are insignificant compared to the well-being of those you care about.

Measures to take
   • Acknowledge why your family member is vulnerable and plan accordingly. For example, if you have an elderly grandparent with a respiratory issue, ensure that your space has proper ventilation. Even opening a window helps if weather allows. No accommodation is too small to provide a safe environment.
   • Although COVID-19 is not usually transmitted by surfaces, ensure proper cleaning for your events. Changing sheets and towels, as well as using specific cutlery and utensils to serve food, are helpful. Keep an eye out for rooms in your home that become busy, as they will be the prime spot for germs. If a room has constant traffic, go in and wipe down all communal areas every so often.
   • Making sure all guests are up to date on initial vaccines and boosters will help keep everyone safe. Feel free to explain to your guests why they should be vaccinated and direct them to where they can receive their shots. Most family doctors and pharmacies offer vaccines and flu shots at the same time.
   • Taking at-home COVID tests in the days before your visit will provide confidence that you are safe from spreading illness you may be unaware you have. At-home tests take around 15 minutes and are easy for all ages to use. With simple instructions, these small boxes will be among your most powerful tools.
   • Based on the results of your COVID-19 tests, you will be able to determine if you should attend. Not only should you take tests leading up to your visit, but you should also monitor your symptoms. If you feel anything out of the ordinary, take a rapid test, and check in with your doctor for formal testing. Although it is rare, false negatives can occur when testing shortly after exposure. If you are often in environments that could be breeding grounds for illness, try to avoid them, or put yourself in a small quarantine leading up to your event. Whether your quarantine is for a week, or 2 days, do your best to stay away from very populated areas.
   • Masking during your event or visit may be the biggest precaution you can take. It is simple, and all guests can abide. If many guests feel that they do not need masks, moving your event outdoors would be a suitable resolution. If requiring masks indoors, try to have seating outdoors for those who may need occasional mask-free breaks.

Through a young family member’s eyes
My experience with the ongoing pandemic has been somewhat different from that of others, and, because of this, I continue to feel its acute impact on daily life. From the single-use masks littered on the sidewalk to the “Six Feet” stickers in the grocery store, we are reminded every day that there is no such thing as normalcy; however, we should not let our “new normal” keep us from learning from our mistakes and experiences.
Process what you have learned into new solutions this holiday season. Taking an extra step is never unnecessary. Not only are you protecting yourself, but you are demonstrating that you care for those around you.

Eleanor Macdonald is a sophomore at Williamsport High School. She plays on the girls varsity soccer team and is a cellist in the school orchestra. She is currently preparing to perform with a WHS group for the annual “Make A Wish” Foundation fundraising event and is a member of Let’s end COVID!
Published: 11/5/22

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