Can I safely visit my 80yo mother for tech support?
May 29, 2020 9:07 AM   Subscribe

My mom's computer died in early March. I loaned her my work laptop until the new computer I ordered for her could arrive. And then the quarantine hit. But I need that laptop now. Is there anyway I can get her the new machine and retrieve my laptop safely?

My mom is 80, and is in relatively good health, but has a medical history that makes her vulnerable. And of course I don't want to put her at any unnecessary risk. She lives alone, has limited tech knowledge, and limited mobility. She would not be able to carry a new desktop CPU and get behind her desk to plug everything in. The desk is in a corner of her bedroom.

Is there any way I can safely get this new machine set up at her house? I would need to use her keyboard and mouse, and sit at her desk in her chair, move her monitor around, etc.

Is wearing a mask and gloves safe enough? Do I sanitize everything I touch while in her house? If so, with what?

The new computer arrived at my house right before lockdown, and it has been sealed in the box it came in since then. Would it be safer to get it set up and any programs she wants installed and updated here at my house, to minimize the time spent there to plugging it in, making sure it recognizes her peripherals and wi-fi, and then leaving?

I could conceivably do without that laptop for a while longer, but there are some things on it I will need sometime this summer. And I worry about my mom accidentally doing something to compromise it, since I can't get it on my work network to download updates while it is at her house.
posted by SuperSquirrel to Health & Fitness (14 answers total) 1 user marked this as a favorite
Best answer: I'd glove up, open and set the computer up at my own house, sanitise the machine entirely, then put it back in the box. So theoretically nothing inside that box has touched you or your house without being cleaned. Then take it to her house, new gloves on at the door, she stays in the bedroom or 8 feet away while you it it in there and get it working. Then clean it again (for her piece of mind mainly) and take all the boxes and stuff with you.

Take your gloves off after you leave. I think that would do it. The virus is unlikely to be on the box if it has sat untouched for several days, so if you have gloved to touch it, then cleaned everything inside it after you have touched it I think you're probably ok.
posted by Brockles at 9:16 AM on May 29, 2020 [8 favorites]

As an alternative, is there any way you can talk her through setting up remote access to your laptop so you can remove what you need (linking it to dropbox maybe)? And then do the updates?
posted by Brockles at 9:17 AM on May 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Really, the safety is going to be on how well you have been isolating before the event, provided your mother has had zero contact with the outside world. Most infections are from close contact. It is possible to pick it up of a, surface but rarer. Basically the danger is that you could unknowingly give the virus to her because your body is producing it and you are breathing it out of your body.

For the most protection , to go over to her house, first you would need to make sure you don't have the virus ideally by self quartining for 14 days. If you can't do that, then the less contact with everybody else the better.

In terms of the drop off pick up, if your mom can hide in a room, and you do a contactless exchange that would be ideal. She'd just wipe down the surfaces and go on with her day. You'd just do the set up as if she wasn't in the house at all. She could wait two days to use the computer in that space if she wanted.

There are varying ways to do this with decreasing safety from that point.
posted by AlexiaSky at 9:21 AM on May 29, 2020 [11 favorites]

Have her go into another room, open all the windows, turn on a fan if there is one. Wear a mask and disposable gloves that you put on right when you get there. That way you're eliminating the (very small) risk of surface contamination, and the (larger) risk of spreading from direct contact.
posted by Ragged Richard at 9:29 AM on May 29, 2020 [6 favorites]

As noted above, I would go to her house with the computer, put on a mask and gloves upon arrival, have your mother wear a mask and sit in another room while you perform your magic, if possible, open the window in the room in which you are working and the one your mother is in. Rather than take the pc out now and then have to worry about proper sanitation of it, leave it as is and set it up at her house.

Alternatively, and I am not sure if this is feasible in your case, it depends on if your mother can go a few days without any computer, I would have her leave the laptop by the front door when you arrive. You take it without even going inside the house or having any direct contact with your mother. You put on fresh gloves everytime you touch the laptop, bring the laptop home, download what you need, install updates as needed, generally proof it from your mom's accidental wanderings, all while wearing clean gloves, and then bring it back. I would wipe all the surfaces of the laptop, especially the keyboard with a sanitizing wipe before bringing it back. If possible, leave it in a garage for a few days and then have your mother get it from the garage and plug it back in. Voila.
posted by AugustWest at 9:47 AM on May 29, 2020

Yep, if she can stay in a separate room the whole time, that's great. Six feet away but hanging out breathing the same air in the bedroom while you're there isn't ideal.

I like Ragged Richard's advice.

Something like Clorox wipes would make for easy cleaning. Hand sanitizer could work for surfaces that it would not harm. It's important that everything has dried completely before she touches any of it.
posted by katieinshoes at 9:49 AM on May 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

If I were being as safe as possible... I'd find a Remote Desktop Choices | that you could throw on a USB stick and pre-setup and know how to use. Drop that off and let mom plug it in and click on an icon and get it connected. Then you can do whatever you want to the machine.

Not against any of the other distancing, sterilization solutions. My mom is on the other side of the country...
posted by zengargoyle at 10:12 AM on May 29, 2020 [3 favorites]

If you need "some things off the laptop" and not the laptop itself, is there anyway she could install teamviewer if you talked her through it on the phone and you could retrieve you things and just leave her the laptop?

Note: I'm not going to opine on the safety of your installing the desktop. This is not meant as a do-not-install-the-desktop opinion, just another option.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:14 AM on May 29, 2020 [2 favorites]

Oh, and if you do take the desktop to her, consider installing teamviewer or some other remote access solution on it, that way if she needs support later, you can provide it remotely.
posted by If only I had a penguin... at 10:16 AM on May 29, 2020 [9 favorites]

The air you breathe out is a dangerous thing. Open as many windows as possible in the room you work in. Moving air really helps disperse germs and ventilation systems are no match for weather and fresh air. Leave the window open a few inches when you leave. Mom can allow the room to stay closed for several days in an abundance of caution.

I'm a Mom; if my son was in the vicinity I would very much want to hug him. Ask Mom to go for a nice outdoor walk. Have a dooryard (outdoor) visit with her, 6', both masked, if you can't resist.
posted by theora55 at 10:27 AM on May 29, 2020 [1 favorite]

Best answer: Definitely set up before going over. You could put the box in your car and wait three days before driving over, if it's safe to leave it in your car. Wear a mask and gloves before getting in the car.

Absolutely install some sort of remote control system for her so that you can troubleshoot.

If you can write up directions (with pictures!) for things that have changed from the OS she was using, and print them out, that will probably help.

My husband gave his never-used-a-computer-before mom a tablet, and it's been an interesting experience. She is successfully making Zoom calls for church, so that's something.
posted by JawnBigboote at 11:38 AM on May 29, 2020

Best answer: Err on the side of caution (Guardian, May 28, 2020). As a lower-risk alternative, maybe you can just pick up your laptop outside of your mom's home and drop off a new laptop with everything set up for her to use, using gloves and cleaning etc to reduce the risk of fomite/surface transmission. You (and your mom) could also consult with a medical provider about the risks to your mom and any feasible options to reduce them, and avoid relying on uncited 'it seems to me' guesses and speculation about how to reduce risks during an indoors visit in her home.

According to Susan Kline, an infectious disease physician and professor, and the medical director for infection prevention at the University of Minnesota Medical Center, "“Be really cautious to make sure that you yourself haven't been in a high-risk situation where you could have been exposed to anyone with coronavirus,” said Kline. And make sure you don’t have any symptoms. Then, when it comes time to meet your aging parent in person, do all you can to make the visit as safe as possible: Meet outside, wear a mask, wash your hands and keep at least 6 feet apart. And this one is really, really hard but: No hugging!" (MPR News, May 21, 2020)

Additional coronavirus-related health information, including about how to clean/sanitize, is listed on the MeFi Wiki Disaster Planning & Recovery page, in the Medical/Pandemic section.
posted by katra at 12:16 PM on May 29, 2020

I did this recently with my 87 year old father. I tried the phone thing because he couldn’t get windows to start and said his monitor was broken. I’ll be honest ... hours of that plus phone messages from him , failure to explain well on both ends, etc. over multiple workdays and I just said fuck it and went there. He’s slipping a bit mentally and we ended up yelling at each other on the phone, which was very uncharacteristic. Not to be ageist but I now have a 100% ban on helping my parents over the phone unless teamviewer is running. It’s crazy-making, and I manage an IT support team.

Once I went over, we both wore masks and I washed hands before during and after. He largely stayed downstairs while I worked and I made sure to type and print a detailed list of everything I did because he likes to ask. Home run ... everything solved in a couple of hours. He’d driven me and my brother and our spouses nuts for a week before that with no end in sight. I will say that I’ve been isolated and super careful with my immediate family, grocery delivery etc. and so has he so we judged the risk acceptable. YMMV. if she’s ok with phone help you can try that.

Side note: the local Linux nerd non chain computer place is now persona non grata because those guys have no idea how to deal with computer novices. The worst!
posted by freecellwizard at 6:34 PM on May 29, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks for everyone's replies. My problem-solving skills are apparently atrophying without regular human interaction. It hadn't even occurred to me to just give her another laptop. My daughter needs a new laptop, so Mom can have her old one, after I disinfect it and install TeamViewer.
posted by SuperSquirrel at 4:42 AM on June 2, 2020 [1 favorite]

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