Visiting vaccinated parents - can/should I do it?
February 7, 2021 2:21 PM   Subscribe

Can you help me sort out the ethics and logistics of visiting my parents?

My parents live in an assisted-living facility in a nearby city. Everyone there is scheduled to receive their second vaccine dose (Pfizer) next week. I haven't seen them in person since February of last year, I miss them a lot, and I am extremely hopeful and excited that I might be able to do so soon. Please help me think this through.

I live with my partner. Neither of us are in an early vaccination category. My partner smokes but neither of us have any other comorbidities. We are in our 40s, work from home, and have been very cautious throughout the pandemic about being in contact with others. These days, we go out on foot for groceries and that's it. Neither of us have cars, so in order for me to visit my parents I would need to either take a 60-ish minute trip on public transportation (a bus, train, and another bus, then the same to get home,) or take a 45 minute Lyft. If I visit them, the plan would be to wait 20 days from their second vaccine dose, get tested, and then quarantine (and request my partner does too) before making the trip.

If I test negative, I'm not too worried about infecting anyone else, but it's always possible. And of course, I could pick it up somewhere on my travels and bring it home to my partner. I would of course mask up the entire time, but that is no guarantee.

Another factor to consider is that we're in Massachusetts, where our governor is planning to increase restaurant capacity and re-open museums, etc. as of tomorrow, despite a truly bungled vaccine rollout, and the fact that over a hundred towns and cities here are still in the red zone. The city my parents are in is among the worst in the entire state. By the beginning of March, which is the earliest I would consider doing this, we may be in for another surge.

If I do go can't figure out which choice of travel would be safer - obvious issues abound with trains and buses, and rideshare drivers are in close contact with others for hours everyday. I would want to keep windows open but that's a big ask for a long trip in a New England March.

So, my questions are: in my shoes, would you visit in March? How would you get there?

It's ok to be upfront if you think it's a bad idea, but I do ask your reasons why/why not. It has been a year since I've hugged my mom, and tearing up just thinking about it, but I've waited this long and I'll wait longer if I decide it's the right thing to do.
posted by prewar lemonade to Grab Bag (24 answers total) 3 users marked this as a favorite
Can you get clarification on “everyone” at their facility? I’m hearing care workers refusing the vaccination.

Would it make sense to borrow or rent a car for the day?
posted by tilde at 2:29 PM on February 7, 2021

Response by poster: Forgot to add - I don't drive. And I live in a 400 square foot one-bedroom apartment, so if I got sick there is no way to isolate from my partner. That is my biggest worry.

Tilde, all the workers there will be offered the vaccine, but I don't know if it's mandatory.
posted by prewar lemonade at 2:32 PM on February 7, 2021

Best answer: This is a crap answer, but I think you should hold off until closer to the end of the month before you decide. See what happens as far as re-opening surge (and superbowl surge, and valentine's surge). Figure out if your school systems are going to have a spring break and when - you'd want to be done traveling by the time those people hit the road.

If you had any way to secure a quarantine location for your return - hotel, airbnb, whatever - I think you could make more firm plans. The likelihood is nonzero that you will get it during travel or in contact with the assisted living facility (including from your parents, as at this point all we can be sure of is that vaccinated people get milder cases) and that you could flip contagious 4-10 days after that point without ever knowing for sure if you've been exposed.
posted by Lyn Never at 2:57 PM on February 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If it were me, I'd wait until May. It's only three months from now, hopefully an upcoming surge will be over, and it might be possible to visit with them outside on a nice day and have almost no contact with the workers (and I would imagine that some percentage of the workers are not going to be vaccinated, because that's what's happening everywhere).

So, yeah, 84 or so days plus your quarantine rather than 27 days plus your quarantine.

How to get there? One supposes your partner doesn't drive either or wouldn't be able to go, or you would have told us that. A ride-service like Lyft, but with windows open because it will be warmer? In NYC those cars now mostly have plexiglass shields to protect the driver. If you live on ground level, maybe plug in a fan and, when the driver arrives, turn on the fan to blow out any virus that's remaining in the air on the back seat? (I'm not so concerned about surfaces these days, although I'm sure you know how to take precautions about that).

I know it's so hard to wait.
posted by DMelanogaster at 2:58 PM on February 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: I think you may need to live with the uncertainty for a little bit longer.

A still rather large unknown is the impact of the coronavirus mutations. The mutations may mean that visiting in the short term is relatively safer than doing so in the medium term. However there may not be enough information in the short term to make a good judgement about the relative risks (e.g. vaccine efficacy). IMHO it's one thing to visit nursing home residents (indoors) when their vaccination against the strand of coronavirus is 95% effective and another when the efficacy is say 50% against the dominant strand.

In addition the vaccine distribution trajectory is unknown.

Do you know someone who could drive you as a favor?
posted by oceano at 3:53 PM on February 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Best answer: Your travel sounds pretty safe for the vaccinated parents, so then your other considerations are your partners and travel-mates. I went from MA to MI last March to visit mom (cancer surgery), arriving by plane and driving her car home, because her doctor was adamant I shouldn't fly as things shut down. I drove back this October because mom had tried to be chipper through months of being isolated and confined to her room as covid killed others at her assisted living, but it was really hard on her. She and friends over 80 tended to be a little less cautious about covid because they felt like they've lived a good life, and now quality of life (seeing beloved folks) mattered more than quantity of life. Her need outweighed my own caution, and I was lucky in that I could drive myself, otherwise be careful, rates were down. It wasn't no-risk, but worth it to me.

You sound like you've been super responsible throughout. I agree with those above who say to wait a couple more weeks to see how things go (if the positivity rate continues to fall, that would be a plus). If you can take a rideshare or have a friend drive you, that would restrict the number of exposures. And then I'd ask your partner to have enough food on hand so that you can both quarantine at least a week when you get back.

One thing about a place like Metafilter is that there's no downside to strangers telling you to take zero risk - they don't miss that hug. But hugging a parent/child after a year is worth considering ways to do so carefully/cautiously. You're thought this through. If you continue to do so, you will be risking a little, but in responsible ways. Good luck to you and your family!
posted by ldthomps at 4:29 PM on February 7, 2021 [16 favorites]

I'd be stunned if the facility allowed visitors.
posted by bashing rocks together at 4:33 PM on February 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

(And if you live somewhere that rideshare drivers aren't required to keep windows open the whole time then fuck no)
posted by bashing rocks together at 4:34 PM on February 7, 2021

Best answer: First, I come at this question as someone who has had to be inside with other people for work since August (not that I'm happy about it)- while I am fully on board with the need to flatten the curve, I've found Metafilter to skew a bit overly-cautious when it comes to COVID risk assessment.

This sounds like a pretty cautious plan overall, and most likely fine. I mean, it sounds far less risky than eating a meal in a restaurant. If you took a bus, would you be able to sit next to a window cracked open?

The only thing that gives me pause is the Brazil variant, since it's possible the current vaccines will not protect against this - but now that we have a competent president who is ramping up COVID sequencing, hopefully in a few weeks or so we'll have a better sense of how much this has spread in the US. So I'd wait until early March to decide - this is also when some experts predicted the Brazil variant could be the dominant variant in the US - I personally want to know if that prediction comes true before I hug my parents again.
posted by coffeecat at 4:45 PM on February 7, 2021 [15 favorites]

Best answer: Can you clarify what the set up of the assisted living facility is? As of right now, it isn’t confirmed that those who are vaccinated can’t be carriers and my concern are the other assisted living facility residents and staff. Also in many facilities, my understanding is that residents need to quarantine in their rooms for two weeks after having an “outside” interaction (like a doctors visit).

Overall your plan is reasonable enough but I’d wait longer so that you can have an outdoor meet up with your parents.
posted by raccoon409 at 5:54 PM on February 7, 2021

Best answer: I would test then quarantine for ten days then retest then leave ~14 days later.

See your parents. You love them and human contact between children and parents is one of the fundamental things that makes life worth living.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:07 PM on February 7, 2021 [3 favorites]

Also, taking a Lyft with the windows rolled down -- maybe doable in MA, maybe not -- is fairly low risk.

Consider also renting a car instead (e.g. ZipCar) if you can drive, as it is probably the most low-risk mode of transportation if you bundle up and leave all the windows down the whole drive.

Some of this is between you and your partner in terms of risk and I can't really weigh in on that.
posted by Rock 'em Sock 'em at 6:08 PM on February 7, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: The two big concerns here:

(a) It sound like all of the worse variants will be arriving everywhere in the States in March, exactly by the time your parents are 95% immune via the second shot kicking in. Like I would seriously say "do any seeing of humans RIGHT NOW THIS MONTH" except for the time of their dosage.

(b) The safest way for a non-driver or two to travel is most likely finding one driver to take you. I shudder at the idea of taking multiple public transports. I haven't heard of any Covid rideshare deaths yet, but I definitely have of bus drivers. If you absolutely must go, I'd say to take a Lyft with the windows down, as it sounds like a lot of air blowing through the car at speeds over 20 mph helps a lot (even if it's a frigid ride for all). Hell, I might vaguely consider a limo and be far away from the driver, except I literally know nothing about limo pricing or whether or not it's possible to roll down those windows, and I would guess that isn't doable financially.

I wouldn't go if it were me. Your parents will hopefully be safe/r by then, but you definitely won't be at all. I'd be less concerned if they could travel to you, but I'm sure that can't be an option. But if you are determined to go (and this is assuming the facility lets you, that's something you should probably investigate), I think getting a Lyft and going the day they're finally medically in the clear is the least bad of your (travel) options.

And finally, the CDC on travel options.
posted by jenfullmoon at 6:34 PM on February 7, 2021

Best answer: I work for an academic medical center in MA, though I am not a clinician and do not work with patients. But I get regular COVID updates through work, and our infectious disease experts beg us regularly not to do what you are thinking about doing. There are already 4 COVID variants in MA, including the Brazilian, S. African, and UK strains. Documented cases are low so far, but apparently that is partially because we got a late start on genetic sequencing. We don’t have much data on how the vaccines will work against these variants. I know it sucks so so much, but the safest thing for everybody, not just you, is to wait.
posted by DiscourseMarker at 6:49 PM on February 7, 2021 [6 favorites]

Best answer: Between variants and not knowing what the home will even allow given they have to ensure the health of their other residents and staff, some of whom may not be able to be vaccinated, I wouldn't plan anything now in your shoes. I think you could hold out hope that if everything goes just right and rates of variants stay low and the facility will allow it, you could maybe have an outdoor visit in several weeks. Early March feels too soon for me as far as being sure how the newer variants will spread, if I were making the call, but that's gut feeling and would depend a lot on how CDC guidance unfolds.

You should probably also be looking at hospital load where you are. If you bring back covid and you and your partner get really sick, are you comfortable that you can get good care and won't be part of stressing your local emergency and medical systems beyond what they can bear? If you quarantine somewhere before going home can you arrange to do it with minimal chance of exposing anyone else like hotel staff or shop workers? Those things would factor into my decision.

I truly don't know about bus vs Lyft; I've had that fight with myself on the couple of occasions I've had to get medical care during this past year and I still don't know what the right answer is. My gut feeling has been that Lyfts might be safer for me but less safe for the driver since they can't distance from me like the bus driver and passengers can. But that probably depends a lot on what transit and ride share is like where you are right now.

I'm sorry this all sucks so much. Thank you for being thoughtful about it, and I really hope things are safe enough that you can visit soon.
posted by Stacey at 7:05 PM on February 7, 2021

(I stand corrected on whether you'd be allowed to visit - Massachusetts has not allowed assisted living facilities to prevent visits and currently allows them both indoors and outdoors)
posted by bashing rocks together at 7:37 PM on February 7, 2021

Best answer: I tend to be a little more toward mask up and do it side of things. I think your plan is reasonable. I think it also depends on the health of your folks. If they are sick or not in good health and every day you don't go is more risk that the next go will be a funeral, go for sure. If you are concerned about your health and your partners and your parents and the staff and other residents, then don't go now. You will be so worried and god forbid someone did get sick, you will feel guilty for a long long time.

But if you are asking is the plan reasonable, I think it is. I would do it.

Do you have a trusted friend who could drive you if you pay for gas or ask? I think if you have someone who you know and whose habits in terms of covid are known to you to be relatively safe, I would ask them. This is the type of favor real friends are for.
posted by AugustWest at 9:12 PM on February 7, 2021 [5 favorites]

Best answer: If I were in your shoes, I would visit. You say you'd do a true quarantine with testing beforehand, so you're protecting the place you're visiting, which would be my biggest personal concern. If you can get a friend to drive you, both masked up with all the windows open, then I think your general exposure is pretty low.

That said, I have been riding the bus occasionally throughout this (I also have no car and need to get to work, vets etc) and the shops round here are busy, even though most people wear masks, so I have had to get comfortable with assuming a certain level of personal risk which your proposed visit wouldn't increase much. My priority is making sure I don't spread it if I catch it. You may feel differently because it sounds like your daily life is less risky than mine.
posted by stillnocturnal at 11:53 PM on February 7, 2021 [4 favorites]

If you decide to visit (and are allowed to), be aware that I felt like a truck had hit me starting about 24 hours after my second Pfizer vaccine. Lasted for about 8-12 hours. Co-workers who received 2nd Moderna reported similar "reactions." You may want to wait 3-4 days after your parents' second dose, just to give them time to feel better (possibly).
posted by kuanes at 3:48 AM on February 8, 2021 [2 favorites]

Best answer: First, I haven't seen it mentioned, but you can use to evaluate the specific danger of doing this trip, vs, say, going to the grocery store. Microcovid right now assumes all covid is the new strains, so I believe it is overly harsh. A lot of real numbers instead of guesswork has been very helpful for many people.

That uber ride seems to be VERY SAFE if you wear a KN95, and don't chitchat. 20 microcovids means a 20-in-a-million chance, or 1-in-50,000. There's about a 100x chance of being in a lethal car crash from the drive than it affecting you covid-wise.

With the transportation out of the way, I barely see the issue. If you are worried about transmitting the virus to your parents, well, they are vaccinated. If you are worried about the nurse checking in on you, well, that's going to be under 30 seconds and they'll be masked. If you are worried about them transmitting the virus to you both, well, they are vaccinated, so the only way that could happen is the "transmission without infection" which hasn't been proven to not happen.

So, in conclusion, I think you can likely visit after 2 weeks (that's CDC time, not 20 days) after their second dose, without testing or quarantining before or after. Everyone wins the lottery ticket, but based on the information you gave here, that lottery ticket is not life or death, but the chance at getting a little sick.

Go for it.
posted by bbqturtle at 5:09 AM on February 8, 2021 [4 favorites]

Best answer: If the facility allows visitors in a month (I think it's a big if, and will depend on how many people there actually get the vaccine), I think you should go see your parents. That's the whole point of the vaccine.
posted by david1230 at 6:47 AM on February 8, 2021 [1 favorite]

Best answer: NPR answered this, said no, because you can still infect your parents. They seem to think that literally only the vaccinated can (relatively safely) be around each other. No mixing of the vaccinated and non-vaccinated ;(
posted by jenfullmoon at 7:54 AM on February 8, 2021 [5 favorites]

Response by poster: Just want to thank everyone who weighed in. You have given me a lot to chew on. I appreciate your time and insight!
posted by prewar lemonade at 4:29 AM on February 9, 2021

If you're still working through this - check with the director of nursing or similar decision-maker at the assisted living facility on whether they have certain milestones or thresholds they are using to determine when visitation can restart (or if visitation is allowed - what kind of screening they do). The answer may very well be "we don't know yet" but that can at least help you plan how to live your life over the next several weeks/months while you're waiting.
posted by mostly vowels at 9:53 AM on February 9, 2021

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