COVID Conundrum Number 1,530,423
December 5, 2020 8:40 PM   Subscribe

My partner and child and I are considering a trip around the holidays to see grandparents - with CDC levels of precautions. Can you weigh in on our plans?

A caveat:
We understand that public health guidance is broadly “don’t travel.” We would prefer not to get answers that just say “don’t travel” and instead have reasons why our specific plan isn’t safe enough. Thanks!

The situation:
We are a couple in their thirties with a three-year-old and an older dog living in the Bay Area. Isolation is tough on us, as it is for everyone. One set of our kid’s grandparents (ages 93 and 74) lives in San Diego, and isolation is also tough on them. We’d like to visit their house for 2 weeks around the holidays for the mental health and well-being of everyone.

The bubbles and current precautions:
We bubble with our kid’s aunt and uncle when they’re in town from another state, who are very cautious because of health concerns, and with our nanny, her two young kids, her dad, and her dad’s girlfriend, who are very cautious because of COVID anxiety. Right now our only regular activity is outdoor walks and runs, masked and distanced, and picking up takeout, masked. Other folks in our bubble also go grocery shopping masked. No kids are in daycare or school, and no one is working in person except the nanny at our house.

The grandparents have no one else in their bubble. They go to doctor’s appointments, go grocery shopping, and pick up takeout, masked.

We believe all people involved are honest, informed, and reliable, and are not doing risky activities behind our backs.

The plan:
* Aunt drives in one shot to our area and joins our household 14 days before the trip. Nanny stops coming (we still pay her) and gets a COVID test on her way home.
* We hard quarantine with aunt for 14 days - only outdoor walks and runs, being extremely careful to wear masks and distance. No takeout, no doctor’s appointments, no grocery shopping.
* Grandparents do the same thing - no takeout, no doctor’s appointments, no grocery shopping.
* 2-4 days before the trip, all adults get a drive through COVID test and continue quarantining.
* If any test is positive, we cancel the trip. If anyone develops a fever, a severe cough, or other concerning symptoms despite a negative test, we cancel the trip.
* We drive in one shot, overnight, while our kid is sleeping. We make one stop for gas if we must and try not to even stop for bathroom breaks/go as fast as possible if we have to. We bring our own food and drinks.
* We quarantine at their house in San Diego for two weeks (and enjoy each others’ company).
* After dropping us off, Aunt drives home, quarantines with uncle for two weeks at home, then drives back to pick us up (yes, she’s the best aunt ever!).
* We go back home in one straight shot with minimal stops. We don’t test this time because we haven’t gone anywhere during the trip except to their house and distanced/masked walks at their house.

Our priorities are to keep ourselves safe and not spread COVID. We don’t want to be a-holes but we also don’t feel required to follow health department orders if our plan is sufficiently cautious. We believe there’s almost zero chance of us spreading COVID to each other or anyone else with this plan.

What are we missing? Other than not going at all, what could make our plan safer?

Would you do this? Why or why not?

Do we need to do the COVID testing if we’re quarantining for 14 days?

Thank you!
posted by bananacabana to Health & Fitness (46 answers total) 5 users marked this as a favorite
We’ve done a similar two-week quarantine to spend time with family and it’s worked great. This does rely on everyone truly committing to following the quarantine rules, but it sounds like you have that covered.

We did not do testing but would’ve also just canceled if anyone started feeling sick. This was ok with us because our possible exposure was so low even before the quarantine. I was definitely feeling guilty about taking a short trip (just a few hours away, and just as isolated as our quarantine) over Thanksgiving because of all the severe warnings, and was also wondering if I should’ve gotten a test, but I do think that because of the low-risk everyday life of everyone in our quarantine, tests would not have been helpful. So since your bubble is bigger, it might be a good way to go for peace of mind.

I think your plan sounds good, and also if you are able to scope out rest areas ahead of time, I’ve found those to be more open and airy in terms of ventilation than trying to find an out of the way gas station. Also, there may be parks or campgrounds with pit toilets, which is another (breezy!) option. Good luck!
posted by fleecy socks at 9:29 PM on December 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

At this exact moment, with San Diego ICU's running out of capacity now and cases surging across the state, this very much doesn't feel like the moment anyone would recommend you disregard the legal orders of the health department during a pandemic to visit extremely vulnerable individuals.

I recognize you've put a lot of thought into this plan about how to do it as safely as possible, and with lower case counts and greater hospital capacity, my inclination could be different, but right now really seems like the time to hunker down and stay put during what is about to be an awful period just based on the cases that have already been reported. Your 10 person bubble, honestly, goes well beyond the bounds of what health officials are asking for right now.

Keep in mind that if hospitals are full of COVID patients, they're also too full to help if you get into a crash on your road trip.
posted by zachlipton at 9:34 PM on December 5, 2020 [54 favorites]

You should probably also be aware of the current Bay Area requirement, extending into 2021, that anyone traveling more than 150 miles from the Area MUST quarantine for 14 days upon return.
posted by hanov3r at 9:37 PM on December 5, 2020 [8 favorites]

Why is your aunt involved? Very cautious people haven't been going back and forth between states anyway, let alone joining an unrelated "bubble" of ten people occasionally (without ever quarantining?)

You're mixing *FOUR* households in this plan, and spending six nights driving long distances.
posted by bashing rocks together at 9:41 PM on December 5, 2020 [43 favorites]

Your plan sounds appropriately conservative, with regards to COVID. My actual concern is that it sounds like neither you nor your partner can drive, and that you'd have a toddler along. That's potentially adding a ton of risk and complexity if you have any kind of an emergency while staying with your elderly parents.
posted by Narrative Priorities at 9:45 PM on December 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

Response by poster: To clarify a few things:

Both partner and I can and do drive.

Aunt is involved A) to help us with toddler at home during the 14 day quarantine before and after the trip so nanny and her family aren’t an extra variable/so our bubble can shrink by half when we start quarantine and B) to be a third driver on the overnight drives for added safety.

We very much realize there is risk involved, are informed about the frightening state of hospital capacity, and are appropriately anxious about even this plan. However, we are also anxious about the possibility of waiting too long to go and not getting to see the 93 year old parent again in this life. We are trying to balance all these things and would most appreciate concrete suggestions about how to make the plan even safer. Thanks!
posted by bananacabana at 9:59 PM on December 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

I feel like you’ve put a lot of thought into this. Your older relatives will likely being the ones taking the biggest risk. If they are able to be this cautious and want you to come, I think it seems reasonable. I also think you can reasonably take potty breaks and driving breaks without a huge amount of anxiety. Do the things you know you must do. Don’t linger inside, sanitize your hands. Wear a mask.

I really get the fear that you could need medical attention and it might be really not great. But there’s any number of things that could require medical attention at any time anywhere.

I hope you all are able to have your visit. If for some reason it gets postponed, keep on hoping for a vaccine and soon.
posted by amanda at 10:23 PM on December 5, 2020 [1 favorite]

People are dying, alone in hospitals, unable to see their family at the end of life precisely because people are ignoring pandemic guidelines. People are stuck entire countries away from home. People like myself cannot access adequate medical care. There is no reason to go against rules at the literal worst time of the year. Call, video chat, or write to your family instead.
posted by Crystalinne at 10:38 PM on December 5, 2020 [51 favorites]

There are many potential entry vectors by trusting a larger number of people than is safe. There are many, many potential sources of exposure if a single thing goes wrong on the drive. Y'all have concocted this detailed plan, and I can't help wondering if it's because you know that what you want to do is not actually safe. It is tragic that we are forced to spend critical time away from elderly relatives. But if you do this, you are increasing risk for yourself, your family, and for everyone else by increasing the potential load on healthcare at what is one of the most dangerous times to be leaving the house in recent history. I am so, so, sorry, but I don't think it is responsible to go. You seem to just want confirmation that your plan has the approval of others, but it's not actually safe.
posted by jjray at 10:39 PM on December 5, 2020 [25 favorites]

You asked "Would you do this? Why or why not?" I would not do this right now, and in fact recently made the decision not to.

I have a very small and over-cautious bubble: me (I live alone), my local partner, and his live-in partner. We all work entirely from home, get food delivered, take only very rare masked grocery trips, and wash up and strip off outside clothes on after coming inside. I have another partner who lives a 10-hour drive away, who is similarly cautious, and doesn't spend masked or unmasked time with anyone where he lives. He's driven down a couple times since March, stopping only once for gas and once for drive-through food, and it's been fine and we've felt safe and have had no COVID scares.

We really wanted to spend Thanksgiving together, but after many, many hours of deliberation, decided not to, because:

* It was Thanksgiving, and there were going to be many more people out and about than on previous tripes, being much less thoughtful and cautious than we were
* It something went wrong, like a car issue or fender-bender or inclement weather forcing him to stop overnight, he'd risk being exposed to those same people
* If something went really wrong, like a wreck, he might have ended up at a hospital that was over capacity already, or if not, would be taking up bedspace that could have been available if he hadn't taken the risk of driving, and also have a much higher risk of exposure just by needing to go to a medical facility

I truly believe it probably would have been fine, and I also truly believe we made the right decision to not do it anyway. The thing we kept coming back to was that it's one thing for us to take on the risk ourselves, but an entirely different thing to know we might be unknowingly exposing others, or unnecessarily adding to the medical system's burden. And there's a point at which we realized tying ourselves in knots trying to account for every risk and justify it was probably in itself a signal not to do it.

Christmastime will have the same higher risks as Thanksgiving, if not moreso. We're thinking about waiting for holiday travel season to be over before we revisit the possibility of him taking a drive across multiple states. You may want to consider the same thing.
posted by rhiannonstone at 12:38 AM on December 6, 2020 [6 favorites]

We would prefer not to get answers that just say “don’t travel” and instead have reasons why our specific plan isn’t safe enough.

This plan isn’t safe enough because this is not a bubble, this is a small village. And no matter what the people in the bubble are telling you, it’s guaranteed that someone in that group has done something “just this once”, because “it’s just me, and I’m safe”, or because it was essential. Someone in that group has gone to a grocery store, or put gas in their car, or taken a sick pet to the vet. Or has been in contact with someone who has.

In our weekly Zoom meeting on Thursday, my boss said to us “Assume everyone around you has COVID. EVERYONE.” But you know what, my boss also kept us in the office until someone caught COVID. (We are essential workers, but all but 2 of us can work from home and still do our jobs just fine.) And it was totally predictable that a particular coworker would catch it, because his wife works at Walmart. But Boss kept us all in the office even though it was predictable, and even though she would tell you that she’s being extremely safe, that we sanitize 3 times a day, take our temperatures every day, etc. She ended up catching it too.

If nothing else, our healthcare workers deserve the respect of all of us doing everything we can to not make their job harder right now.
posted by MexicanYenta at 2:23 AM on December 6, 2020 [30 favorites]

One point, I don’t believe testing 2-4 days before would be long enough to catch a case. If you did get infected on day x, 2-4 days later it would still possibly be developing. You need to test way longer before (8-10 days?) then HARD quarantine (like actual, not still getting takeout and groceries and mixing households). Give time for the virus to develop. So that would push pack your timeline a lot (your aunt would have to do it too before joining you both times and would have to lockdown your uncle as well or the testing is moot).
posted by hydrobatidae at 2:41 AM on December 6, 2020 [7 favorites]

Given that you are isolating yourselves with only a small subset of your usual bubble, I think your plan is safe regarding COVID. I would consider not subjecting your aunt to the San Diego trip though, because it will subject her to a lot of unnecessary driving by herself in going to and fro. Unless she actively wants to see the grandparents (albeit briefly), get her help during your pre-visit isolation period and make the drive yourselves.
posted by metasarah at 3:07 AM on December 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

Your plan is about as safe as such a plan can be given your stated details, although I would forgo the aunt’s involvement in your shoes and accept that wrangling the toddler on your own for two weeks and driving without a third shift is part of the price of doing this as safely as you can. If you don’t think the drive is safe with only two drivers, that’s part of your answer. Adding safety in one area only to lose safety in another isn’t a net win for safety.

But no, I would not do this. “As safe as it can get given various limitations” is not the same as “actually safe”, everyone thinks *their* family is the one with the dire enough situation that it calls for an exception to isolating for the holidays, and as awful as it is, we can’t all be the exception if we ever want this to end.

Cars break down, people get injured, and you cannot be sure you will not have to encounter other people along the way. You will be a stressor on medical on safety systems if that happens, as well as a personal source of stress for strangers who don’t know you or your precautions.

It would probably be fine. Probably is not enough for me, in a pandemic, when I think about my responsibilities to others. So I wouldn’t go.

I’m sorry. It’s terrible. You’re trying to do a good thing to help your family wring some joy out of a terrible year. But I would take all this love and energy and put it into finding nice ways to share that love remotely.
posted by Stacey at 3:58 AM on December 6, 2020 [23 favorites]

trip around the holidays to see grandparents - with CDC levels of precautions.

CDC precautions would have you stay home.

Your plan does not include anyone outside your bubbles whose risk is increased when you travel. Every place you might stop has to be open - they're essential because of what they provide to their communities - cleaning the loo after every random family from who knows where uses it is not the essential service they are open for and not something anyone should have to do with a pandemic surging. But they do. Every exit ramp along the way has minimum wage folks being exposed to more vectors passing through town than anyone who has the luxury of forming bubbles and pods and CDC guidelines of their own making has to be exposed to. They miss their families too. And nobody pays their wages when they get sick. And this doesn't even consider car trouble or any number of medical needs that a family ranging from toddler to 90s might need over the course of several weeks of travel and new environments - diverting scarce medical resources and putting more people at risk.

The CDC guidelines are not laws or regulations that you have to abide by the letter of but are free to find loopholes and workarounds that ignore the spirit of. The guidelines are all spirit - let's all do this/not do that so we can all get through it. In order to abide by the guidelines, you have to consider those outside your bubble. And that means staying home.

tl;dr Give it the Jurassic Park test. Yes, it probably can be done. But should it be?
posted by headnsouth at 4:48 AM on December 6, 2020 [29 favorites]

You clearly have a lot of resources at your disposal, enough to make it seem as if your risk-taking actions can be fully mitigated. Or at least enough to prevent anyone getting infected (and infecting other people, and some of them dying.) A lot of the replies here are trying to make you see this from the epidemiological angle, which is that in a pandemic under conditions of lockdown, there is no such thing as a safe exception. There are too many variables. No one can stop you from doing what you want to do, but I don't think it is responsible for internet people to help someone convince themselves that a violation of the CDC guidelines can be engineered to cause no harm.
posted by Morpeth at 5:23 AM on December 6, 2020 [23 favorites]

I understand why you want to take this risk. 93 is actually an age where there is a reasonable possibility this is the last Xmas, and 2 is an age where Zoom won’t necessarily create dim memories of being together, or pictures for the album. So I want to acknowledge that pressure.

If your quarantine is a truly hard quarantine, your bubble’s behaviour prior to it probably isn’t that relevant. So I think your three riskiest points are:

1. The drive. In the summer in Ontario I did a camping trip and I had entirely forgotten how much contact there is on a road trip, how often I had to pee, etc. That’s the crack in your plan. Definitely think through sanitization around the gas pumps/credit card/etc. Bathrooms are the worst - think Covid poop with the person before you flushing into the air. These are just realities. Toddlers increase the chaos level here (I remember my child dumping milk down my husband’s back from a thrown supply cup.)

2. The ICU situation. I’d’ve said your best week would have been immediately after Thanksgiving, before the travellers for that got sick enough to need ventilation. Christmas is historically the season of drunk drivers etc. If you could plan this trip at a different time it might be better. Of course later could also be worse. But if you can travel against the tide it might be better to plan for like, March. In the US vaccination might be starting to move the needle on healthcare by then if front lines medical staff are vaccinated.

3. The other medical needs situation. Our Covid wall is incomplete (kids are in school), but even taking that into account I’ve been unpleasantly surprised at our colds etc. With masks! I think we’re experiencing the lack of ongoing exposure in the spring and summer so we get everything that makes it through our defenses. I think you could be bringing other germs with you and then your elders may end up in the bad medical situation- which stretches all through, I had a long wait for an X-ray lately. This also includes toddler trip hazards. Once again, this is about timing.

I have compassion for you. You asked!
posted by warriorqueen at 5:48 AM on December 6, 2020 [6 favorites]

What if you are in a severe car accident, and the closest hospitals are full? This is starting to be my main concern with travel. Driving even not in a pandemic is the riskiest activity we all do.
posted by tiny frying pan at 7:13 AM on December 6, 2020 [5 favorites]

There has been near-unanimity in the answers already, but in case it is useful, here is one more vote for "put this trip off until it is safer."

I think there are two main problems with your plan:

1. Even if everything goes perfectly, your plan adds risk to three households and directly contradicts health department direction.

2. Things don't always go perfectly. Cars break down, toddlers get sick and need to go to the urgent care clinic, your aunt's partner does something risky that he forgets to mention to her, or whatever. Your plan doesn't mitigate for this risk.

Yes, not seeing family for an important holiday is terrible, this really sucks for everyone. But it is one holiday season, vaccines are starting to trickle in, and there will be a competent national administration in place starting in the new year. There will be an end point to the severe lockdowns, and there will be a point fairly soon where you can go see family without this kind of stress.
posted by Dip Flash at 7:16 AM on December 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

Would I do this? no. Even if your family is "doing things as safely as possible," traveling of any sort imposes risks and hardships on other people. (E.g the folks running the Covid tests, doctors, nurses, first responders, and essential workers are all exhausted and sacrificing for us all).
posted by oceano at 7:19 AM on December 6, 2020 [9 favorites]

Please take good care of your grandparents by staying home. Why? Because the only safe enough plan is to stay home. (BTW, your post actually affected my sleep last night, because it is this type of rationalization that contributes to the spread of covid and the resulting loss of life.)
posted by SageTrail at 8:09 AM on December 6, 2020 [27 favorites]

I don't think that it's possible to make the plan safer, and I don't think it's much riskier than living your usual life. What it is, is time and resource intensive. There are many people in your community that are struggling now and your plan doesn't invest resources in them. When I thru-hiked the Pacific Crest Trail in 2016, that was a time and resource intensive effort that was enabled by my privilege and didn't benefit anyone but me. So I donated a dollar for every mile that I hiked to the ACLU, as a sort of offset that went over and above my usual charitable commitment.

If I were undertaking this trip, I would try to balance my extraordinary self-serving use of resources by making an extraordinary commitment of additional resources into my community, and I recommend that you do the same. If you can't afford to do both, then I suggest that it's more important to use extra resources to help those in need than to take this trip at this time.
posted by Kwine at 8:19 AM on December 6, 2020 [4 favorites]

I live in San Diego and new stay-at-home provisions to into effect tonight (Sunday) due to the strain on our ICU facilities. Please don't visit. Thanks.
posted by SPrintF at 8:23 AM on December 6, 2020 [15 favorites]

Specifically? The bubble you think you have is not the bubble you actually have. And you think you have like, four overlapping bubbles. And now you plan to move that bubble to merge with one in an area you have been told is straining its capacity.

I urge you to reconsider.
posted by stevis23 at 8:25 AM on December 6, 2020 [24 favorites]

I'm sure a lot of Californians are in a similar situation and thinking, "I know the state is telling me not to travel, but I can be the exception." It doesn't work that way. We all have to do our part.
posted by pinochiette at 8:51 AM on December 6, 2020 [13 favorites]

Please stay home. Your bubble has many holes, and the travel is more open than you want to believe it is.
posted by heathrowga at 8:56 AM on December 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I remember coming across a charming children's book a while back, titled Go the Fuck to Sleep. I wish someone would publish a modern take on that title, for adults too: Stay the Fuck at Home.

You asked what you were missing when making your plan.

* You're missing the fact that people slip up, and that you have an extensive bubble with people who may mean well but who may not tell you every single time they do something they shouldn't. They may not even be conscious of it themselves.
* You're apparently missing the fact that yes, you do need a Covid test "even if you're quarantining". You will not necessarily know if you have it, especially if you are young and otherwise healthy.
* You're missing the fact that Covid tests can be wrong, especially the drive-through variety.
* You're missing the fact that you could get Covid from the actual healthcare worker who does your test.
* You are missing the fact that you could get Covid from your walks and runs outside, unless you are on private property that literally never sees another soul on it.
* You're missing the fact that it is unlikely you will make it 5 hours in the car without stopping either for gas or a bathroom break, and that you could get Covid from either of these activities.
* You're missing the fact that after weeks and weeks of quarantine, you're likely to want to celebrate with your family and have takeout "just this once", and could get it that way.
* You're missing the fact that no matter how carefully you drive, you may have an accident that requires medical attention, or may need it for some other reason, when in an area with no ICU beds to spare.

Each one of these is fairly unlikely, but possible. Combined, even more so. A whoooole bunch of people who "believed there was almost zero" chance of contracting Covid, did so despite this belief. Yes, the risks may be small enough to suit you, but you're making your choice for everyone else who may come in contact with you, some of whom have no choice (workers who service bathrooms and gas stations) or who already take on a high level of risk that doesn't need to be pumped up further (healthcare workers).

You talk about this trip benefiting "everyone"'s mental health. It may indeed benefit yours, but it may kill a parent, or someone unrelated. And you are causing people in this very thread to lose sleep over your irresponsibility and rationalizations thereof. So your plan has provably already been bad for someone's mental health.

One of the reasons our country is in the predicament it is in is that we are a nation of "individualists" (aka special snowflakes) who don't think the rules apply to them. San Diego has told you that you are NOT welcome to combine households right now. The order they issued doesn't make an exception for your family. Your family consists of human beings, not snowflakes. Snowflakes don't get Covid. Humans do.

Stay the fuck at home.
posted by Flock of Cynthiabirds at 9:02 AM on December 6, 2020 [30 favorites]

Your bubble is waaaaaaaaaay too huge to the point where I would not use the word bubble. That's ten bloody people!!!!

I'm not going to repeat the "don't go's" even though I agree with them, but I am going to point out that actual quarantine means no contact with others, no grocery store, no nanny and her family, no other relatives.

Honestly, I'd almost say your plan is good enough, or at least if you prune down the people and plan for a lot of 14 day alone stints for like, six weeks or something, it' s not bad. But there probably is no point in trying to get tested since a negative test to put you "in the clear" doesn't seem to actually work to do so. It's Schroedinger's Virus, after all. And what everyone else said about bathroom breaks, toddler behavior, and car accidents throwing off the plan.

At this point--and I say this as someone utterly alone, not in a bubble of ten to keep me company--"mental health" needs to go out the window. It doesn't trump "I might kill my beloved relatives or permanently handicap myself and/or my relatives to go see them."
posted by jenfullmoon at 9:11 AM on December 6, 2020 [18 favorites]

From today's LA Times, where starting to tonight the entire So Cal region will be under new restrictions effective through at least December 28 because the region (including San Diego) is now reporting a 12.5% ICU capacity:

"Nonessential travel restricted

Once the order goes into effect, the state is asking people to stay home and not mix and move around. Part of the recent surge in California was caused by travelers from out of state.
“All nonessential travel we are ordering to be temporarily restricted,” Gov. Gavin Newsom said.

The directive to cancel nonessential travel plans is a requirement, not an advisory."

In case it wasn't clear that this is a state requirement and not merely guidance. There isn't language in the requirement that you're excused from the restrictions if you take certain levels of precautions. Also, the out of state reference in the article is not an okay to do long distance in-state travel.

If your drive were one or two hours, that's a whole other ballgame. California is in this together. Do you still believe you are the exception to this rule?
posted by Goblin Barbarian at 9:16 AM on December 6, 2020 [9 favorites]

What would Kant do?

If everyone who wanted to travel took these level of precautions (assuming you actually quarantine for 14 days), what would the world look like? I think there would be less COVID in the world in that case, because a 14 day quarantine is the gold standard per the CDC after possible exposure. If you (and everyone you have contact with) has no contact with anyone else for 14 days, I would say you don’t have COVID at the end.

You do have to be as careful as you say, no exceptions.
posted by unix at 9:22 AM on December 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

I made a comment that got deleted before; if I had to guess why, I’d say it was because I am totally isolated and angry about it and jealous of people like you whose worlds are full of people, and my anger and jealousy about that came through too strongly to be helpful. I’m sorry about that because I do want to be helpful to you and others in your situation. But I do think you need to hear how the justification you’re using, mental health due to isolation, is coming across as at best insensitive to those of us who are truly more isolated and struggling and still making the tough sacrifice for the greater good. I truly am not not to be combative, I just wish it were a part of everyone’s mental calculus.

The problem with your plan is that your plan contemplates everything going perfectly, for ten people, for more than a month, and that doesn’t seem possible to me. There are factors you can’t possibly control or know about and that’s why this thing is spreading.

Also, it glosses over some important things, like getting tested for covid, or stopping on a couple of long car rides. I’ve never been on a car trip where someone didn’t have to pee (or throw up, or get a coffee, or clean up the coffee they spilled on their lap, etc.) During the holidays, traffic gets bad, weather gets bad, cars act up, etc. Those are the the parts of your plan that don’t seem as buttoned up as you’d like.
posted by kapers at 10:08 AM on December 6, 2020 [29 favorites]

Mod note: A note to please keep things on track and address OP's question with constructive feedback and ideas on how to make their journey safer. It's a very difficult time, please be kind.
posted by travelingthyme (staff) at 10:17 AM on December 6, 2020

Look, anybody can try to rules-lawyer their way out of anything, but it all boils down to this:
If you love someone, why on earth would you risk infecting them?
posted by Mary Ellen Carter at 10:17 AM on December 6, 2020 [9 favorites]

So to your actual question about how to make this safer, as someone who has taken a few long car trips during COVID-times:

- the aunt should not be involved (you don't need three drivers for a 7 hour drive unless you are very inexperienced/nervous drivers, in which case you should put off this trip anyway; the childcare sitch is bad but COVID is worse)

- I don't really understand why you are driving overnight? asleep toddler is preferable to awake toddler, of course, but by a much wider margin awake drivers are better than 2 a.m. drivers

- if you have to pee, pee outside (in bushes, or get one of those pop-up changing tents if you're shy) (I am very glad to have done this; rest stops are chock full of people who are definitely not wearing masks or even washing their damn hands)

- you said you are planning to bring your own food and drink, make sure you actually do that, no "oh I really want something hot" -- nope, bring a coke if you will need caffeine. this means bring more food/beverages than you really think you'll need

- given the 14-day quarantine I'd skip the COVID test, because that's a potential point of exposure

IMO the biggest risk here is you get into a car accident or the car breaks down, which at minimum will broaden your circle wide enough that you'll need to turn around and go home, and at maximum will require medical treatment, which see above, plus maybe there won't be a hospital bed for you.

(also reminder that in most of California, definitely including San Diego, you are not allowed to combine households starting tonight)
posted by goodbyewaffles at 10:38 AM on December 6, 2020 [5 favorites]

Mod note: Again, if this is not the question for you to answer, and you can't answer without being constructive, don't. We didn't delete any constructive comments (except ones that should have been in MetaTalk) we are just leaving a note for further commenting in this thread.
posted by jessamyn (staff) at 11:13 AM on December 6, 2020

Response by poster: Thanks all for your responses. Thank you especially for the people who were kind and gave constructive detail. We are considering all of this.
posted by bananacabana at 11:34 AM on December 6, 2020 [1 favorite]

The thing about this pandemic, especially here in the ruggedly-individualistic U.S. of A., is that everybody thinks their own levels of precautions and risk tolerance are the appropriate levels.

We also tend to assign our own meanings to important words. I personally know people who think “quarantine” after virus exposure means mostly staying home except to run errands. I know people who’ve gotten sick because they apparently thought “stay at home” had a magical carveout for first-degree relatives in separate households. I know people who think literally any gathering is still fine as long as it takes place outdoors. Every last one of those people would tell you, straight faced, that they’re taking precautions.

Upthread there’s a reference to Kant’s test: What if everyone did what I want to do? I agree with the appropriateness of that question, but I disagree with the conclusion that commenter reached. If everyone had a multi-household, double-digit-headcount “bubble,” and if everyone traveled (even by private automobile) to see elderly loved ones for the holidays, we would see an even bigger surge in cases than we are already going to see. The word “bubble” Is effectively meaningless in this scenario.

The temptation for all of us is to find the perfect loophole. The problem with finding and exploiting the loophole is that it requires everybody else to stick to the rules more scrupulously than we do. Thus, holiday travel, of any kind, fails the “what if everybody?” test this year.

It sucks, because if everyone had taken your carefully-thought-out level of precautions eight months ago, we might have this thing under control now. I’m so sorry. It’s just too far gone at this point.
posted by armeowda at 12:21 PM on December 6, 2020 [18 favorites]

> Our priorities are to keep ourselves safe and not spread COVID.

Then you know the answer: stay home.
posted by The corpse in the library at 1:05 PM on December 6, 2020 [19 favorites]

Isolation is tough on us

We bubble with our kid’s aunt and uncle when they’re in town from another state, who are very cautious because of health concerns, and with our nanny, her two young kids, her dad, and her dad’s girlfriend,

You will not know how tough isolation may be on you unless or until you ever experience it. By taking this trip, you are making it ever so slightly more likely that one of you will discover what isolation is like.

We’d like to visit their house for 2 weeks around the holidays for the mental health and well-being of everyone.

Doing this for the mental health and well-being of yourself and your nuclear family, who have not been isolated this entire time and who have been spending time with another family as well as your own extended family, cannot be justified. To make a plan you must first recognize that the only people whose well-being might be worth unnecessary risk are the two elderly grandparents. they are the ones most at risk of dying as a result, but also the ones most at risk of harm from what is somewhat closer to actual -- real -- social and physical isolation. If you cannot justify this plan solely with reference to them and their health circumstances -- leaving aside any strangers you may put at risk; considering your own circle only--if you need to rest your argument on the backs of your children or other non-elderly family members, it is unsound from the very start. They and you do not need this.

I recommend that you look up farhad manjoo's reprehensible op-ed in the NYT on his decision to travel for thanksgiving. the article is garbage; don't read that. read the comments.
posted by queenofbithynia at 5:42 PM on December 6, 2020 [11 favorites]

Hey! Another vote for staying at home.

I'm in Melbourne where we got a second wave of COVID cases down to zero because everyone listened to the government's directives to stay the fuck at home. I live on my own and had no human face to face contact for months. It was bloody hard but I did it, because I knew I'd never be able to enjoy any holiday again if I put people's lives at risk.

We now have had 38 days without any infections.

What would cause you the most regret: putting someone at greater risk of infection, or not seeing Grandma at Christmas?
posted by daybeforetheday at 6:54 PM on December 6, 2020 [2 favorites]

Another point: Over here a bubble was two single people able to meet outside or inside their house with masks. They changed it to two households only once we reached a good level of suppression. Your bubble is not a bubble, it is a dorm.
posted by daybeforetheday at 6:59 PM on December 6, 2020 [12 favorites]

Please keep in mind that if you do go ahead with your road trip that the recommendation would be to stop every two hours and take your child out of the car seat.
posted by kinddieserzeit at 12:38 AM on December 7, 2020 [1 favorite]

This article was published almost 8 months and over 250,000 lives ago:

The Answer to All of Your Social Distancing Loophole Questions Is “No“
posted by The Pluto Gangsta at 4:46 AM on December 7, 2020 [9 favorites]

I work in an area with a hospital that will be receiving the COVID vaccine in the next couple of weeks. Your elder relatives are likely to be higher on the list for people to receive the vaccine than yourselves. We are so close here. While the grandparents getting vaccinated doesn't address the potential extra strain you create to healthcare workers by traveling, I am just posting to say that we are very close to not needing to be so strict, so I'd encourage you to postpone Christmas style visiting until then. Save your work leave and travel once phase one of vaccination has been done. It will be here before you know it.

I don't have any suggestions to make your plan safer other than to postpone it the brief time we expect to be waiting on vaccines to begin entering higher risk portions of the public.
posted by crunchy potato at 6:17 AM on December 7, 2020 [7 favorites]

We just finally called off a similar trip after weeks of back-and-forth and trying to engineer the safest possible options.

We were planning to drive and I used the AAA TripTik planner to plot out exactly where we would stop every 2 hours and stretch, every gas station we would go too, and what hotel we would stay at. I pre-booked hotels and ordered cleaning products. I pre-ordered bulk amounts of snacks and water and energy drinks and packed my car with all sorts of emergency supplies so we could be as self-sufficient as possible if something happened with the car and avoid calling AAA or going to a hospital. Quarantines were set up at home and for the people we were going to see. After all that, we ended up calling it off because the anxiety of planning for the safest version of a not safe thing was too much for me, versus waiting a few more months. It was a really hard decision and it sucked a lot, this is a shitty time on so many levels.

The nail in the planning coffin was when I started to self-quarantine last week in advance of the anticipated trip, realized a family member who can't drive needed something from the pharmacy that could only be picked up in person, and thought...who is going to get that for them when I come back and have to fulfill the mandatory return quarantine? Who is going to get that if I am sick? So, if you are still planning to go, really think through every single possible item you could need to have at home for 14 days and make sure it is already IN your house before you leave. You won't be able to leave home again once you've returned from this trip until the quarantine is over.
posted by assenav at 12:01 PM on December 7, 2020 [7 favorites]

"The cavalry is coming." Just hold on a few more months and the vaccine will be widespread. You've all done so well to make it this far. This stage isn't forever, the end is in sight. Think of celebrating with them in the spring when you'll all be feeling safe and nobody's life will be in danger.
posted by beandip at 9:32 AM on December 8, 2020 [3 favorites]

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