Protecting Dad In the Community During a Pandemic
"I have an elderly father and plan to begin taking him back out this summer. I’m wondering what might be the safest way to expose him to the community. From what I read and hear, COVID-19 may decline in incidence, but it will still be among us. Until there’s a vaccine in a year or so, how do I safely take my 89-year-old dad out in public?"
You are thinking about this global pandemic very clearly. You’re correct to conclude that he’ll be under continued risk, even when parts of society begin to reopen. Exposure to those who are infected still pose a risk to him. That risk will remain high due to his age and any health issues he may have.
As you start to move him about in the community, plan carefully what situations are less risky for him to navigate. I have a short list of criteria to consider before he leaves home:
- Mask wearing by everyone, including him, should be your minimal requirement for public exposure. Reason – masks keep a large percentage of germs inside a person’s mask.
- Keep him six feet or more away from anyone he does not live with. Reason – the COVID-19 virus travels in the spray from our mouths. That spray can only travel so far. Sneezing is another story, so 12 feet is actually better.
- Don’t take dad into any crowds. Reason – the six foot rule is impossible in a crowd.
- Remind him not to touch his eyes, nose or mouth. Reason – COVID-19 is a respiratory virus that enters the body in these places.
- Watch dad wash his hands and impress upon him how important proper hand-washing is. Both sides of his hands need soap and he should scrub as long as it takes him to sing his ABCs. Reason – viruses can live on surfaces for a period of time. When we’re out and about we touch things like door knobs and railings. While the virus doesn’t enter the body through the hands, we touch our faces frequently throughout the day. Proper hand-washing should remove the virus if he picks it up on his hands.
- Screen those people he will be exposed to and find out if they’ve been exposed to COVID-19 or if they have any symptoms. Reason – his greatest chance of getting the virus is exposure to someone who has it. Keeping his circle of contacts small keeps his chances of contracting it small.
- Move cautiously. Reason – your father has a very high risk of dying should he contract COVID-19. Take him into the community only when you can do it with complete safety. It is simply not worth the risk to him.
Humans will gradually move about in the community again, even though COVID-19 will be a significant risk until there is a vaccine, or we develop herd immunity. Until then, your father needs to remain ultra-cautious. Be safe.
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