Thanksgiving COVID household integration plan: feasible or fatal?
November 17, 2020 9:48 AM   Subscribe

My family and I have developed a plan for integration of our households at Thanksgiving, and while I think it's pretty good, I'm terribly anxious about it. Can you help me assess it?

In theory, my son and I will be joining households with my parents for Thanksgiving. They are in their 80s and have been socially isolating with care in their retirement community, which also tests them weekly and does temperature checks daily. They see nobody at all indoors, and the few people they do see are always outdoors, masked, and distanced. My son (age 12) and I have also been socially isolating. I see basically nobody outdoors unmasked and undistanced, and nobody at all indoors, and he sees only his father, his father's girlfriend and girlfriend's toddler. The current plan is for my son and I to isolating ourselves thoroughly starting Wednesday 11/18 (meaning no interaction with anyone whatsoever indoors, and outdoors only with masks and distance) and to take C-19 tests on Thursday, 11/19. Then, assuming no illness for anyone and negative tests results, on Wednesday before Thanksgiving, 11/25, integrate households with my mother and her partner. It seems like a carefully thought out plan, and I want desperately to give my mother a hug, but I'm also consumed with anxiety that something might go awry and I could kill my loving parents. Is this a terrible idea?
posted by pleasant_confusion to Health & Fitness (38 answers total) 2 users marked this as a favorite
What do you know about the COVID practices of the father and girlfriend and toddler and how much do you trust that what you know is true?
posted by jacquilynne at 9:54 AM on November 17 [49 favorites]

The safest thing to do is declare it a skip year. Party all the harder next year.

You do not want your memories of 2020 to be much, much worse than they already are.

I will tell this to anyone thinking of making any plans to see people they do not already live with.

The risk may be low, but the penalty for guessing wrong (and it will always be a guess) is absolute.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:57 AM on November 17 [62 favorites]

Just by way of illustration of how terrible things are going to be -- people who gather at Thanksgiving and catch COVID-19 will be looking for hospital beds in early December (and there aren't any hospital beds now) and may not see Christmas at all.

Please, stay home.
posted by seanmpuckett at 9:59 AM on November 17 [19 favorites]

Is your son with his dad now? I guess the guess the question is if his dad or dad's girlfriend go out and about all in the world. Let's say one of them has asymptomatic Covid from a recent exposure (no blame here, just going with a possible scenario) and your son contracts Covid today or tomorrow -- well, a test on Thursdays wouldn't necessarily show as positive. So I think the concern is that you or your son could have Covid asymptomatically and test negative this week, and then bring it to your parents.

Are you on a week on/week off schedule with your son? Is it possible you could do two weeks and then see your parents at the end of those two weeks? And then you can quarantine and isolate as much as possible.

This could be fine. But will you be anxious the entire time and for two weeks afterwards? How does that compare to the sadness of not seeing them? What if they do get Covid from you all?

Would it be possible to push your visit to them to as far away as possible and then just go for a socially distanced walk?
posted by bluedaisy at 10:01 AM on November 17 [8 favorites]

Wouldn't you need, at the very least, a test closer to thanksgiving? If you get infected today, it may not yet show up on a test on Thursday of this week. I feel like you need a test next week, as late as possible. Getting those results in time would be unusual. All in all, you needed more isolation time in the lead-in. One day isn't going to cut it.
posted by donnagirl at 10:02 AM on November 17 [11 favorites]

You think your bubble is: you, your son, your parents.

Your actual bubble is: you, your son, your parents, his father, his father's girlfriend, girlfriend's toddler - PLUS, potentially: his father's family, his father's girlfriend's family, his father's friends/workmates, his father's girlfriend's friends/workmates.. etc. You get the point.

Tests are most effective when someone is symptomatic. Children often do not show any symptoms at all, which is why they're so good at spreading this thing. That includes your son and the toddler he's been in contact with.

Skip this year so you can all be together next year, save yourself the anxiety and the potential illness for your parents. It's hard, but it's the safest option. And this goes for Christmas as well.
posted by fight or flight at 10:08 AM on November 17 [27 favorites]

The father and girlfriend in the mix especially concern me.

One thing I've noticed is that people genuinely think they've seen nobody and are totally isolating when that is demonstrably not true. I noticed that with a relative who was getting tested and told me she wasn't worried, that she couldn't have it because she "doesn't go anywhere." Well, this person had recounted trips to Goodwill and Target to me, so she was obviously going places. In addition, her children were seeing their father, whose movements are unknown to us, and had gone on an out-of-state trip with him to see his sister and god knows who else. This is not a stupid person, and I think she really was sincere in thinking she had no possible exposure. So my observation is that the level of denial people can exhibit about whether they've had contact with anyone is absolutely breathtaking.

I've seen other people do similar things - claim no possible exposure when I could think of several possibilities with the little I knew of their lives. So I really don't trust what anyone says about whether they might have been exposed.

I am devastated that I won't be able to see any family for the holidays this year, but the potential bad outcome, for me, is just too bad for it to be worth the risk. I would recommend cancelling your plans.
posted by FencingGal at 10:10 AM on November 17 [24 favorites]

If you son isn't seeing his father and his father's family before Thanksgiving, then I would recommend that you start totally isolating tomorrow (or today if possible) and then get a test closer to Thanksgiving, since it takes a while for a test to come back positive. If you've got access to a testing site with 24-hour turnaround, get a test on Tuesday. There's still a chance of false negatives, but I think it's a risk I'd be willing to take.

If your son is seeing his father and family, then I think Thanksgiving is off the table for this year. I know how much that sucks.
posted by ArbitraryAndCapricious at 10:13 AM on November 17 [3 favorites]

Don’t do it. It’s not a foolproof plan.
posted by Geckwoistmeinauto at 10:18 AM on November 17 [4 favorites]

Don't risk it. There will be people this year who, because of their holiday gatherings, lose their loved ones. You don't want to hug your mom that badly.

I'm sorry, this is a shitty situation and, while your plan has a lot of the right pieces, you can't control all the variables. For me, it is not worth it.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 10:19 AM on November 17 [2 favorites]

Unfortunately the time to start a pre-Thanksgiving quarantine was last Thursday. Perhaps you could move Thanksgiving dinner out a bit and start your 14 day quarantine with your son today where he only stays with you.
posted by oxisos at 10:26 AM on November 17 [9 favorites]

Yeah, the weak link here is you're assuming a COVID test ensures that nobody is infected. Unfortunately it doesn't really work like that.

You need to wait at least 5-7 days after you start isolating to get tested, because it takes that long to get a high enough viral load to show up on a test. And then even after you wait, COVID tests have a pretty high false negative rate for people without symptoms.

The only foolproof way to do this would be for everyone involved in the dinner to isolate completely for 14 days before Thanksgiving -- but we're already too late for that.

Only you can decide your risk threshold, and I think AskMetafilter sometimes leans too far in the cautious direction -- but with people in their 80s involved, this seems pretty risky to me.
posted by mekily at 10:28 AM on November 17 [8 favorites]

The timing is off unfortunately I think. Your quarantine is only one week long and the test that you are taking is way too close to the start of it. If this were a week ago it would probably be different.

For example - your son is exposed today, the 17th. (Echoing that with 2 adults and a toddler, unless you are certain they are truly isolating, there's a risk. How big of a risk will depend on both their practices, and the spread in your community - how high is it?)

He doesn't really come down with Covid for 5 days (the minimum length, he could easily be coming down with it on the 25), the 22. He is asymptomatic. He gives it to you on the 23-24 somewhere. He also can expose your parents.

Then you are just starting to get symptomatic on the 29. So now you are able to pass it on.

This is one reason Covid-19 is going through families like, well, the plague. You can't just test based on one person's exposure because if you are off by a day, other people are also just getting it.
posted by warriorqueen at 10:28 AM on November 17 [3 favorites]

I have no medical training so take this for what it's worth. I have considered essentially what you're proposing. To my mind it's an acceptably low risk if everyone involved agrees to a hard ten-day quarantine of their own accord. That means no sharing inside airspaces or other than very brief outdoor masked contact with anyone outside the bubble. Contactless delivery everything, masks even outside during exercise, the works. Because once you combine a household there's a 2:1 chance of transmission. And the curves I have seen say that 95% of transmissions happen within a 10-day period. I'm not sure the testing gets you very much but it won't hurt either.

The devil is really in the details, though. You are talking about a lot of people, and more importantly, potentially a lot of households. Does anyone have people in their houses for cleaning, physical therapy, or personal care? Do they go indoors for medical appointments, shopping, or haircuts? Is the toddler in day care? Does anyone work outside the home? All those contacts would have to be deferred during the quarantine period or done by people in the bubble. It's daunting. Those hugs are tempting, but they come at a cost. An 85 year-old man has about a 10% risk of dying in a given year (and a life expectancy under six years) in any case, so I am sympathetic to the idea that you might regret skipping a year. But the risk from contracting Covid is dramatically higher for someone in that age group, so there are arguments on both sides. Within our bubble, we concluded that we we couldn't guarantee everyone would be able and willing to defer all the contact to the degree required to permit unmasked indoor interaction. Best of luck on your decision.
posted by wnissen at 10:30 AM on November 17 [3 favorites]

I think it is a reasonable plan if, and only if, your parents sign off on it. If they are comfortable with the plan and you are, assuming you are driving to see them, I would go for it. I think it is their decision how much risk they are willing to take. Your parents are in their 80s. How time do you have left with them even without this terrible disease?

The other alternative is to leave your son out of it. Isolating at your house this whole time means nothing if his father and his father's gf are not also diligent. I assume they are bc you have stayed true.

Fwiw, both of my parents died in 2019. They were in their 80s. 85 and 84. My mom died suddenly in her sleep from they think either a heart attack or a stroke. Was fine one day and never woke up the next. My dad was diagnosed with cancer on a Monday and died on the next Saturday. Thankfully, I was able to see my father before he died. I never got to say goodbye to my mother.

Knowing what I know about their deaths now, if covid was here, I would take precautions and go to Thanksgiving. My guess is I am a virtual lone voice on these boards, but here it is.
posted by AugustWest at 10:30 AM on November 17 [7 favorites]

Reading the new responses, they make an excellent point about the timing for Thanksgiving. If you start the hard quarantine tomorrow, ten days of quarantine would make the Saturday after Thanksgiving the earliest you could gather. It would be easier, for most people, to this kind of quarantine over Christmas and celebrate a few days late. E.g., start on December 19th, celebrate on the 29th. It's too late for this Thanksgiving, unfortunately. I also would not go indoors for a Covid test unless I knew that I had a well fitting K/N95 and would not have to take it off except momentarily.
posted by wnissen at 10:38 AM on November 17 [1 favorite]

The testing at the beginning is not adding anything to this plan. It will only show you are not infectious *that day*, you could still have caught the virus but it just hasn't multiplied to detectable levels yet. To be safe, you really need to be isolating fully for two weeks.

For context, I'm going to see my family for "Christmas", but we're actually celebrating Christmas on the 3rd of January so we can isolate fully for two weeks after we get off work. It's not a 100% guarantee, but my parents really want to see me and nothing in life is 100% safe (frankly, though, I've been much more cautious than my parents throughout this thing, if they're gonna catch it odds are it won't be through me).
posted by stillnocturnal at 10:41 AM on November 17 [2 favorites]

By staying home you'd be protecting your parents from getting sick with a potentially serious outcome, but you'd also be protecting your son from potentially spending the rest of his life wondering if he's the one that infected his grandparents.

This is a risky plan. I'm so sorry, this year is terrible.
posted by beandip at 10:44 AM on November 17 [5 favorites]

1. You can't test out of quarantine.
2. Quarantine means 14 days.
posted by dum spiro spero at 10:50 AM on November 17 [12 favorites]

I think you may be misunderstanding how isolation works. It doesn't mean "seeing no one indoors, and only seeing people outdoors and masked and at a 'proper' distance." It means staying indoors with zero interaction with other humans outside your household, full stop. Zero vectors. That's isolation. You're already not doing it, and your parents are already not doing it.

I would not do this with any factors involving behavior of people I cannot control and confirm isolation with my own eyes. This includes your son's father, father's girlfriend, and her toddler, as well as your parents. And possibly also your son, depending on what he does when he's with his father and how much supervision he gets. And it also includes your parents, who you don't live with and don't supervise.

You're anxious because you know this is risky, even if the risk is comparatively low versus being antimaskers, because the worst results are far above zero and could kill someone. I urge you to rethink this plan and stay at home with your son this Thanksgiving. Work out a Zoom dinner or something.
posted by juniperesque at 11:02 AM on November 17 [34 favorites]

Personally, I would meet with them outdoors on Thanksgiving to trade food and say hello. If it's warm enough, maybe you could eat outdoors if you're distanced. I would not spend time together indoors and I wouldn't risk a hug. This is horrible, and I totally get it. I miss my grandma like crazy and I can't even communicate with her because she is past the point of understanding phone calls. I also am very sad about not spending the holidays with my parents, or feeling comfortable being around my boyfriend's parents. It's all horrible. But you can wish your mother a happy Thanksgiving safely, you just can't share an indoor holiday celebration safely. You've been so strong and hopefully things will start getting better soon.
posted by rue72 at 11:16 AM on November 17 [1 favorite]

If you do this, do not trade food. Outdoors with good air flow reduces risk, certainly.
posted by Pantengliopoli at 11:19 AM on November 17 [1 favorite]

I know several others have said it, but you cannot reliably test out of quarantine.

Honestly I would give this one a pass, at least for Thanksgiving - there's just too many moving parts and it's too late to start quarantining now. I totally understand the desire to see your parents (I'm dealing with that myself), but I wouldn't even entertain the idea unless everyone involved can do a real, no-kidding, full isolation for at least two weeks ahead of time.
posted by photo guy at 11:20 AM on November 17 [1 favorite]

You are proposing one week of increased social distance (what you describe is neither isolation nor quarantine), and one test.

That is not a good plan at all, to say the least. You cannot pick and choose partial bits from a buffet of options. It doesn't work like that.
posted by Dashy at 11:28 AM on November 17 [9 favorites]

In addition to quarantining prior to thanksgiving mingling, you might also want to give some thought to your post-thanksgiving 14 day quarantine, meaning your son would not be able to see his father for 2 weeks after. If either you, your son, or your brother's family, or your parents happen to bring the virus into your Thanksgiving gathering in spite of your best precautions beforehand, this post-gathering quarantine is necessary to ensure that you do not spread it beyond your gathering.
posted by MiraK at 12:05 PM on November 17 [4 favorites]

Agree with the posts above that you feel anxious because you know it's not foolproof and that there are variables and unknowns you can't control.

I have seen very, very few people (if anyone, really...) truly execute a fully isolated quarantine successfully, using the exact definition of the word. Most people like to believe they're conducting themselves with safety and feel relatively isolated but still need to go out to get stuff done. I consider myself pretty well isolated in that the only humans I've interacted with recently (e.g. touched and hugged and gotten close to) are my two children, but I still have to deliver them to childcare (!), have made an emergency stop into Target for medication, gone to a doctor appointment, needed to return something to the library, and so on. I am still a very real risk to others even though I really do feel like I've pared back to the absolute minimum necessary ventures into the public space that my life can realistically accommodate.

And so I was so very relieved this morning when I reached out to my parents to broach the "hey, I'm feeling like this is a bad idea" conversation and both sets immediately volunteered that they'd already decided they would be staying home for Thanksgiving this year. I would rather gamble on having many more full holiday experiences with them in the future than one incredibly stressful and anxiety-ridden dinner this year. I'm so sorry. I know it's sad and awful.
posted by anderjen at 12:11 PM on November 17 [7 favorites]

Thanksgiving in Canada is a lot earlier in yours (second Monday in October). We'd been doing pretty good. You can see the growth in COVID cases following the holiday here. I'm sure everyone who got together with friends and family thought they'd been careful and it would be okay. It wasnt, and still isn't.
posted by kate4914 at 12:16 PM on November 17 [6 favorites]

This article stating don't rely on a negative COVID test to plan Thanksgiving may be relevant to your question.

If it were my family, I'd advocate for good outdoor heaters and have Thanksgiving dinner at a park somewhere with electric hookups, or not at all.
posted by crunchy potato at 12:28 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]

You have the right idea but the timing is off. It’s too late now for the official Thanksgiving holiday but what you’d want to do for the future is

1. Enter into a at least a 14 day quarantine (curbside grocery pick up, masked walks outdoors and no meet ups with others, outdoors or otherwise
2. Get tested (any time on days 7-10)
3. After the end of the 14 days, then meet with family.

Example Thanksgiving timeline: Tuesday Nov 10, last trip inside a shop. At home Nov 11-25. Get tested sometime between November 17-22ish (later is better, but depends on how quickly you can get results in your area. Only do the PCR nasal swab, not a rapid test). See people on November 26. All other people gathering should do this as well.

I worry about your comment that your grandparents are in a retirement community and if they were to get sick who they could potentially infect, that part isn’t clear too me.

Depending on your area (say, if you were in Vermont) I could understand taking a risk with the plan you’ve outlined in your question. Not seeing family can be really hard and I understand that toll. However, given the state of the rest of the states and your already present anxiety about potentially getting your parents sick, I don’t think your current plan is a good idea. Take the feedback you’ve gotten here and use it to make a strong plan for another holiday like New Years Eve.

I can tell from your question that you really care about others including both your family and community. I hope you’re able to work something out for future gatherings
posted by raccoon409 at 12:31 PM on November 17 [6 favorites]

There really is no safe way to do what you want to do, I'm sorry.
posted by winna at 12:52 PM on November 17 [7 favorites]

Where will you be getting your test? If it's at a drive-through site with minimal contact, that's less contact, but if it's indoors somewhere, you're affecting the exposure risk. On my way to a medical appointment, I drove by one of the city's testing facilities and it was indoors, and in front of the building there were at least four people I counted standing around smoking that you'd have to run the gauntlet from, blowing their smoking breath where people were walking to the facility. And this is a respiratory illness. Around the corner, at my clinic, they had drive-through testing with full PPE, so I think which type you'd use is something you should figure out.
posted by kitten kaboodle at 1:29 PM on November 17

If you and your son and your parents started truly isolating tomorrow, you could get tested on December 2 and maybe see them after that. Which could be wonderful! Just let go of the need to be there on Thanksgiving day and look forward to reunion day.
posted by amtho at 2:08 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]

Thank you, everyone. You've given me a much needed reality check. It's been a horrific year --aside from the troubles we've all been experiencing I've had troubles at work, experienced the horrors of domestic violence, am now in the beginnings of the divorce process, and more. I miss hugging my parents so much that it physically hurts. I think the deep anxiety and nagging doubt was me knowing, deep down, that this plan was driven more by emotion and wishful thinking than by science. I've spoken to my mother, and while she's disappointed, she's agreed that we can't proceed as planned.
posted by pleasant_confusion at 3:02 PM on November 17 [49 favorites]

Feelin' for you, pleasant_confusion. So, so so sorry. Eff this year.
posted by stray at 5:37 PM on November 17 [1 favorite]

I’m going to add in one more thought. How far apart do you live from your parents and how accessible is PPE in your area?

If possible, and it doesn’t take away from health care workers, I would consider getting you and your mom N95 (or kn95 from a reputable source) masks and meeting in a well ventilated outside area (think field not courtyard) and having a 5 minute hug session.

So much of what makes Thanksgiving dangerous is people hanging around together indoors for extended periods of time while eating. A quick meeting outdoors with masks mitigates so much of that risk
posted by raccoon409 at 5:49 PM on November 17

Just wanted to point out it could go both ways, too--if your parents are being tested weekly and having their temperatures taken daily, presumably they're coming into close contact with someone on a regular basis, and you know little to nothing about that person's risk factors. If someone else in the retirement community has a family member who isn't cautious coming to visit who infects them, they pass it along to the nurse or whoever is administering tests, and that person then gives it to your parents, there's also a risk that you or your son could catch it from them.

I would personally feel safe meeting them outside, distanced (no hugs) after a quarantine period on both sides, but not following the plan you originally proposed, for the reasons others have mentioned upthread. I'm sorry, it sucks, we also cancelled plans with my in-laws this year even after an initial idea of quarantining and meeting up after 14 days of strict isolation.
posted by music for skeletons at 2:36 PM on November 18 [1 favorite]

@raccoon409 I was thinking the same, that I would at least consider a brief outdoor masked hug as worth its level of risk and damage to public health. Depending. But exposure does scale with time, so with these preconditions while I would not spend hours together eating indoors, I would not judge somebody who hugs for a couple of minutes.
posted by away for regrooving at 1:28 AM on November 19 [2 favorites]

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