Holiday covid risk calculations, part ???
November 19, 2023 11:11 AM   Subscribe

Partner came down with coronavirus a week before we were scheduled to visit family for thanksgiving. What's the right call here?

Partner had symptoms beginning Wednesday evening (11/15), tested positive the next morning. We were planning to travel to see family and friends on 11/22, arriving in the evening. This will also be partner's last day of Paxlovid, so if they do rebound it will be on Thursday and Friday. I have not had symptoms or tested positive yet; obviously, if I do so before Wednesday, 100% we're cancelling.

It seems like the timing is such that (assuming they have been fever-free for 48 hours and their symptoms are consistently improving) partner would be cleared to return to work by this point, but should still wear a mask around others for 5-6 more days, or longer if they begin testing positive again after their course of Paxlovid ends. Of course, the mask part isn't feasible, as this is Thanksgiving, and the whole point is to be around family, indoors, cooking and eating, and I don't think anyone would be interested in having us drive 8+ hours for brief, cold meetings out of doors. We're also planning to sleep in guest rooms, not in an Airbnb or something, and I don't think sleeping with a mask on is even really possible. People do have HEPA filters, but that's about it in terms of precautions.

Partner is in full-on overwhelmed loud weeping about this, is feeling absolutely *terrible* about ruining/missing Thanksgiving after a hard year, and has delegated the decision and any reprocussions (cancelling plans, smoothing any ruffled feathers, telling the catsitter, etc.) to me.

My instinct is that it's not a good idea to go but I tend to be very conservative and Rules-oriented about things like this, and it feels like twisting the knife on top of Partner's already intense bad/guilty feelings. The family members I've talked to so far seem mostly unconcerned, but I want to get my thinking sorted before opening up a full discussion. Our parents are all in their 80s, and at least one has a significant risk factor (diabetes). Most but not all of the folks we're visiting are up-to-date on vaccines; I believe a 6-year-old cousin is not.

What would you do in this situation?
posted by pullayup to Human Relations (37 answers total)
I would stay home. Perhaps join the festivities by web-conference software.
posted by humbug at 11:19 AM on November 19 [18 favorites]

Staying home and not giving people Covid isn’t “ruining Thanksgiving”. It’s showing care to the people you love and to yourself,
posted by matildaben at 11:21 AM on November 19 [62 favorites]

With people in their 80s? Absolutely cancel. Even with Paxlovid, it's reasonably likely they will still be testing positive on 11/22. Even if they did test negative, there would still be a roughly 1 in 5 chance of rebound. Additionally, many people don't test positive until 4-5 days after infection, so you really can't be sure you are in the clear just because you've tested negative.
posted by ssg at 11:21 AM on November 19 [15 favorites]

I would stay home because I would feel so much guiltier if I brought covid to my grandparents than I would staying home.
posted by Ms Vegetable at 11:23 AM on November 19 [24 favorites]

Definitely stay home.
posted by snofoam at 11:29 AM on November 19 [8 favorites]

I think the kindest thing you can do for everyone in this situation, if you're able, is put together plans for Zoomsgiving plus Extra Thanksgiving in another few weeks if possible. I would tell the family members that Partner is absolutely gutted and could honestly use some cheering up and reassurance because they are so sad about this on top of being sick.

It's the right thing to do for your elderly parents, and it's also the right thing to do as a prevention effort for Long COVID. Your partner really does not need an 8-hour roadtrip right now, does not need to be exposed to everyone else's colds/flu/RSV, doesn't really need to be socializing extensively, and should be sleeping in their own bed where they are going to get true rest.

There's a bunch of reasons it would be better to stay home, including the fact that you may be behind your partner on the infection curve.
posted by Lyn Never at 11:32 AM on November 19 [24 favorites]

This sorta depends on family dynamics - my family members are not shy about voicing their needs, even if it risks discord. So, this is my perspective if you can trust people to be honest with you.

I would first reach out to the people most at risk and whoever is behaving the most cautiously, and ask them what they think. I would let all of those people decide first, giving all of them veto power and the ability to set any requirements. Then open it up to everyone - same rules, everyone gets a veto. If they are similar to my parents, one of whom (my dad) is getting close to 80 and has all sorts of medical conditions, this might represent less of risk than what they are already choosing in their daily lives. My dad goes unmasked to the YMCA most days to swim laps, he gathers with friends unmasked, he goes to restaurants - if I tested positive a week before traveling to see them, but was unsymptomatic by the time the travel date rolled around, I know he'd be pissed if I canceled. This may be very different than at least one of your family members! But I do think it's good to give people agency in deciding what levels of risk they are willing to accept - it's reasonable for someone in their 80s to think "I may not have many Thanksgivings left, so I'm going to prioritize my kids being here." They are adults, let them decide.

If you do go, I'd make any effort you can to minimize risk - masking as much as possible, keeping a window cracked in whatever room your partner is in, etc. On the off-chance you live somewhere with decent-ish weather right now, you could advocate for eating outside.
posted by coffeecat at 11:35 AM on November 19 [12 favorites]

Most of the people who choose to answer this will be coming to say to not go (this is an not a survey so the voluntary answers are going to skew in, I think, the direction of staying home). So, for a different data point:

Many people are not taking any precautions and many people are not testing for cold symptoms (such as my daughter had for covid in August). If your family is this type of group, I think you are not adding to their risk by visiting especially if they are vaccinated. I would ask them if you were to visit and wear masks and eat in a different room, if that would be better or worse for them than if you were to not visit. I would look into a hotel but also be ok with staying in a guest room with a closed door without a mask.

On preview, coffeecat has it on respectfully checking in with the family.

I would follow the CDC guidlines and attend wearing a high-quality mask as long as my family was in agreement.
posted by RoadScholar at 11:38 AM on November 19 [9 favorites]

Don't go. Your instincts are correct, and it will be a kindness to spare them illness, even if they're happy to take the risk. Maybe split the difference and go visit earlier for Christmas (if possible) to spend more time with people you're missing now.

Also, this?

has delegated the decision and any reprocussions (cancelling plans, smoothing any ruffled feathers, telling the catsitter, etc.) to me.

Is unfair on you and once they've calmed down, you may need to discuss with your partner the difficult and upsetting position they've put you in. You've (presumably) also had a hard year, you're also impacted by this, you're also going to miss out on seeing family, and your partner needs to find a way to deal with situations like this in a way that doesn't dump all of the dramatic weeping and emotional labour on you.
posted by fight or flight at 12:10 PM on November 19 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: Is unfair on you and once they've calmed down, you may need to discuss with your partner the difficult and upsetting position they've put you in.

I feel like I need to point out that they're feeling pretty bad both physically and about Thanksgiving and emotional lability is an acknowledged aspect of covid and covid recovery. I'm not super concerned about it but I do probably need to shoulder this one on my own. I think it's also complicated by the fact that I'm trying to minimize face-to-face time, probably more than I need to, in order to try to dodge infection.
posted by pullayup at 12:18 PM on November 19 [9 favorites]

I would absolutely stay home in your shoes, but would try hard to pre-schedule a call or video call for that day so everyone can say hi and feel connected. But yes, if you choose to go, you could find a middle ground on precautions like masking except for briefly at mealtimes, finding an AirBNB so you can sleep unmasked without exposing family or hotel staff, etc. And, although it sounds like you’re on this already, making sure all the people you’ll be seeing are aware of the timeline so they can ask you to stay away, or decline to come to Thanksgiving themselves, if they’d rather not risk the potential exposure.

I’m sorry you’re dealing with this! I hope partner recovers quickly and that you stay well.
posted by Stacey at 12:30 PM on November 19 [1 favorite]

Can you reschedule for Xmas? That might be more palatable than giving up entirely. That's what I'd do (but to be fair, Thanksgiving is not a big deal to me)
posted by warriorqueen at 12:52 PM on November 19 [3 favorites]

Last year we had to cancel Xmas for exactly this reason, plane flights and all. We rescheduled to Easter.

It sucks and I’m sorry.
posted by St. Peepsburg at 1:28 PM on November 19 [6 favorites]

It sucks.

Are you comfortable sharing a car with them for the drive there/back, and are you able to afford a hotel or airbnb? One option would be for you both to join in for the pre-food celebrations while you both mask, then make up a party plate for yourselves and send yourselves to the patio with for the meal. You can then rejoin the meal masked once you’ve finished your feast.

We were VERY COVID cautious for two straight years, and are still more cautious than the non-cautious average person, but I would consider going. Elderly relatives probably just want to see you guys. And you deserve the benefit of seeing them too.
posted by samthemander at 2:18 PM on November 19 [3 favorites]

You could even set up iPads for a FaceTime joint meal, if it’s a small gathering.
posted by samthemander at 2:18 PM on November 19 [2 favorites]

You don't say if you have any winter holiday plans with these relatives, but if you do that makes it all the easier to just say "we'll see you next month". (I think you shouldn't go regardless, but this would just make it really simple to me. You've also got things going for you in that at least you don't have to worry about cancelling flight tickets or accommodation reservations.)

Many people are not taking any precautions and many people are not testing for cold symptoms [...] If your family is this type of group, I think you are not adding to their risk by visiting especially if they are vaccinated.

I think this isn't good logic - being around a person with a higher-than-average chance of being infectious does add to your risk, regardless of whether your risk levels are high to begin with.

I agree though that there are some intermediate options like visiting but being very careful about masking, eating in a separate and well-ventilated room, etc. However, having done those things, I will say that they're not fun at all, and people really, really do not understand the concept of eating not being a magic time where no one gets infected, so pretty much nobody ever understood why I was eating apart from them and it was widely regarded as party-pooping behavior. Ymmv. (I'd still do it again, but easy it is not.)
posted by trig at 3:03 PM on November 19 [3 favorites]

I would cancel. I'm a health care provider so tend to be more conservative in general, and when my partner tested positive while we were on a trip, we cancelled, missing Rosh Hashannah with my sister and her family, and cancelled our flights to drive home. It's not worth the risk - although there are good treatments, every time someone gets COVID, it increases the risk that they will contract long COVID and it's just not worth it.
posted by honeybee413 at 4:08 PM on November 19 [15 favorites]

I would cancel, getting people sick is not appreciated! I am the opposite of a COVID worrier, but any illness still has a good chance of being contagious in your given time frame, especially if you pick it up too.
posted by so fucking future at 6:01 PM on November 19 [4 favorites]

If family still wants to see partner: See if you can finagle Paxlovid for a few more days. That'd keep the virus suppressed for a few more days and should vastly reduce or eliminate transmission risk.

It's off-label use but I suspect quite low risk and if you have a physician who cares they may be happy to prescribe it.
posted by mark k at 6:08 PM on November 19 [2 favorites]

Time to a) set up the online Thanksgiving dinner webcast, b) plan Friendsgiving for April or whenever convenient, and c) be grateful that you are doing the right thing to lower the risk of long Covid for your family. This also applies to the hardworking employees you will certainly meet on your vacation.

I hope the beloved partner is feeling better. No one needs to be on a long road trip when sick.
Psychic hugs to you both and to all a wonderful holiday week.
posted by TrishaU at 7:02 PM on November 19 [1 favorite]

I'm not even sure I'd be up for going if I came down with plain old flu on November 15th. That's a week to be sick and recover and feel a baseline level of health. There is some evidence that not getting enough rest in the acute phase of covid can exacerbate long term symptoms. It would be good for your partner to stop stressing out about this trip right this instant, so I would cancel just to put a stop to wondering, hoping, planning and worrying.
posted by oneirodynia at 7:04 PM on November 19 [9 favorites]

I would go if the relatives want you to. Getting people sick sucks. But a lot of people have made the choice to fully go back to normal life, which is a choice people are entitled to make. If your relatives are willing to pay the cost of some extra health risk for the benefit of getting to spend more time with the people they love while they are still alive, it seems fine to respect that choice.
posted by ManInSuit at 9:16 PM on November 19 [2 favorites]

I currently have COVID. I spent the last 3.5 years masking nearly religiously, got vaccinated and boosted, but recently have been slowly coming out of my shell (other than continuing to mask, but have been e.g. eating out lately). My symptoms started on 11/14.

My husband is Canadian and lives just across the Minnesota/Ontario border from me, so we are physically separated until I am better. Obviously US Thanksgiving isn’t really a big deal for him but he knows it is for me. Right now, even having started Paxlovid on 11/16, I am not planning to go see him on Thursday even if I am symptom-free. I was thinking if I’m doing ok symptom-wise later in the week and test negative over that weekend, I would go see him early the following week.

My timeline is nearly identical to yours and I am not going, for what it’s worth.
posted by tubedogg at 12:46 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]

I started at "No, stay home" and the bit about probably not masking escalated that to "Hell naw." The cherry on top of possibly not fully vaccinated 80-somethings pushes me towards "Stringer Bell berating you" levels of "Fuck no, stay home."

It sucks. But it being thanksgiving also means that there's another big shindig in a month.
posted by GCU Sweet and Full of Grace at 3:07 AM on November 20 [4 favorites]

By the original Dutch rules, people were considered contagious from days 1 - 5, then allowed to stop isolating but encouraged to avoid meeting with vulnerable people. (This was before vaccines and without Paxlovid.) Going by those recommendations, your partner would be okay to go. You, on the other hand, could be an asymptomatic case who might still be contagious by Thursday. (But then the odds of spreading it are lower.)

(Note that the Netherlands didn't do too badly medically, so while these rules are definitely not the one-and-only approach, they do seem to have had some merit.)

All this to say: if you have no symptoms and everyone is eager to see each other, it doesn't seem unreasonable to go.
posted by demi-octopus at 3:40 AM on November 20

Your partner might still be contagious, so obviously should not go. If they decide to go anyway, you should still not go because it is likely that you got COVID from them and if so, will be even more likely to be contagious.

If you can both get negative PCRs the day you see them, I think that would be safe, but at least where I live that's virtually impossible.
posted by metasarah at 4:45 AM on November 20

It took me 14 days to test out of quarantine when I had covid, and with Paxlovid the rebound adds another variable. I would skip this. There's almost no way your partner won't still be contagious.

metasarah: negative PCRs

PCR tests can be positive for months after a covid recovery (and it doesn't mean you're contagious).
posted by capricorn at 5:19 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]

Setting aside for the moment the feelings of the various 80-year-olds in the family and concentrating just on you and partner, I would say that "they're feeling pretty bad" and "I'm trying to minimize face-to-face time to try to dodge infection" plus the fact that you would have to "drive 8+ hours" equals helllllll no, sorry meemaw, sorry papaw, we are not coming.

Eight hours in a car when you're still not 100 and the reason you are not 100 is recent recovery from covid? As a recent recoverer from, I say no. No, no, no, NO. I had it in September and kept thinking "okay, this is it, today's the day, I feel normal today!" And then at the end of the day I'd be realizing, "No, I do not feel normal today at all and the whole day was sortof a bled-out David Lynch nightmare in retrospect, how glad I am that I did not spend eight hours of it in a car hurtling inexorably toward beloved relatives in their eighties and a meal I wouldn't have been able to taste." This went on for weeks, at least two and closer to three of same.

If you have been charged with making the decision, I say make the decision that is in the best interest of the person convalescing, which is not to prematurely decide they're all better because this thing doesn't work like a normal cold/flu where you're back to normal right away. Since you've been given the responsibility, you shouldn't have to listen to "you decided this wrong" even once, but given that partner may not be 100% for quite a while, you may hear some wistfulness for a minute. Firmly maintain that you made the right decision for all involved, period, and when partner is finally back in gear, there should be a moratorium on wistful mentions of the "ruined Thanksgiving."
posted by Don Pepino at 6:22 AM on November 20 [10 favorites]

Response by poster: not fully vaccinated 80-somethings

All the folks in their 70s and 80s are 100% up to date on vaccines, including the '23-'24 update, as far as I know.
posted by pullayup at 6:22 AM on November 20

I've been following the CDC regulations, as I have since the pandemic started.

The current advice is that you should isolate until Day 5 (or Day 10 if your symptoms aren't improving by Day 5), then mask until day 11.

Then, if your isolation period is over and you're feeling better and you test negative on two sequential negative tests 48 hours apart, you no longer need to mask.

I think that last part is the key.

Your partner started having symptoms on 11/15, so that's Day 0. Now they are on Day 5 .

11/22 is Day 7. By the book, if on that day, their symptoms are better or gone, they can go with a mask, but should remain masked. If they test negative on the two tests, then the mask can come off.

It seems a bit unlikely that they will test negative before Thanksgiving (Day 8)—it took me 10 days to test negative—but if they're negative, I would go, as long as the other people attending are comfortable with that, and especially if they've already had COVID in the last year or so.

You should test yourself as well.
posted by vitout at 6:26 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]

My mother (70s, up-to-date on vax, generally healthy all up) had COVID a bit before Christmas last year, and while she tested negative (two rapid tests) in the nick of time to have a family holiday, she was still feeling the effects of her relatively mild bout of COVID when I visited in February. Based on that experience, I think your partner traveling instead of resting is not a great idea for them.

I think that my mom being wound-up about "ruining" Christmas very likely compromised her ability to rest and recover. It's an extremely human and understable response - and mental health considerations are important, too - but with partner plus vulnerable elders in the mix, giving everyone a break at the start of the holiday season seems kind.
posted by EvaDestruction at 8:20 AM on November 20 [2 favorites]

Moving on to consider the feelings of the extended family:

All the folks in their 70s and 80s are 100% up to date on vaccines
From everything I'm reading, being vaccinated does not mean they will be less likely to catch COVID19. It means that if they do catch it, they will more likely have a mild case and will thus be less likely to die or have to be hospitalized. Well, I had a mild case, as did my partner. We did not enjoy the experience at all. It kicks the legs out from under you and renders you unable to do anything for weeks on end, which could conceivably ruin... ...Christmas for the oldsters!

Furthermore, if it knocks out somebody's sense of smell and taste permanently, as it did for my cousin, it will at least partially ruin every single holiday for that person for the rest of that person's life, given the importance of seasonal treats to proper celebration. Do your elderly parents really want to risk ruining all future holidays for this one Thanksgiving?

Listen: I lost the ability to smell cinnamon for a solid month! Cinnamon, a huge component of "pumpkin spice" and right up there with ginger and peppermint on the Christmas heavy hitters roster. I thought it was gone forever! It was terrifying. Covid SUCKS. Don't risk giving it to people.
posted by Don Pepino at 9:46 AM on November 20 [3 favorites]

1) This variant is quite infectious and anecdotally seems prone to a nasty rebound all on it's own.
2) I would operate as if you're infected but on a delay from your partner.
3) You or they can be infectious without symptoms AND swabs are prone to false negatives.

That's in balance with being able to trust the positives you get, but keep that in mind - a negative is not a guarantee, nor does it guarantee you're non-infectious.

4) Think hard about work-arounds.

If fam is mostly in this one location, can you go in two weeks? Priority to older/frail people - who is it that you Have To See? Can you visit them when you're recovered and swab for 3 days before travel?

5) Think hard about mitigations you CAN do, even if people are pissy and tell you they don't /care/are vaxxed, etc.

If you decide to go, can you both mask 100% of the time unless sleeping? Can you bring a space heater +/ heated blanket and one or more air filters and keep the window open at night? Can you stay in a hotel? Can you stay at a family member's house who can stay wherever you were planning to stay? (assuming that's the parent's house or someone higher risk).

I can't decide for you - it depends on the health of family, IF you can both commit to 100% n95/kn95 masks (or the 99s - much better and surprisingly comfortable - see 'pro' at (and yes, that includes eating and drinking 100% in the bedroom), if you can keep the window open and extra air filters running all the time, and all of that only if you both feel 100% and both test negative the 3 mornings before seeing anyone. That'd be my criteria fwiw, and can confirm 100% masking around fam for even 1 day sucks ass and takes so much emotional work not snapping at the people you're trying to protect when they tell you they don't care(!).

If you do go, please only consider masking a well-fitting n95 or better. Those stupid surgical masks don't count for anything :(

Agree with someone else who said even if people are vaxxed, healthy, and strongly encourage you despite the risks, the scary one is long covid. It's such a long-term risk, potentially disabling, and it doesn't care if you're young and otherwise healthy. We haven't even figured out what it is!
posted by esoteric things at 1:15 PM on November 20

I think you're getting good advice on how to make the decision, but I want to point out that it's not possible to ruin a holiday by thoughtfully taking care of yourself and others. I know your partner is going through it and not in the best headspace, so this might not be comforting to them right this minute, but to the extent you can, try to emphasize that this is much more like a "can we eat the cheese I left on the counter overnight?" dilemma than a "will we reminisce for years about Thanksgiving 2023: the year I ruined it?"
posted by theotherdurassister at 2:50 PM on November 20 [1 favorite]

This Internet stranger thinks you should definitely stay home.

1. Partner needs to take more time to recover, especially with Paxlovid. Do it right to minimize rebound and dragged out symptoms.

2. Partner probably has brain fog and is overwhelmed. You're doing the right thing by making this decision for them, you're providing loving support when they need it.

3. Are the Thanksgiving hosts prepared to put you up and take care of you if partner rebounds or you get sick? Or is the plan then to drive 8+ hours home?

Stay home and focus on you and your partner getting incredibly solid rest and returning your home to health as soon as possible. In the meantime, plan a make-up visit if you can, even if it's not until the summer or something, so there is that to look forward to.
posted by happy_cat at 2:54 PM on November 20 [3 favorites]

I think you should stay home and take advantage of the technologies available to us to connect with your loved ones in a way that doesn't risk making each other sick, and then get together at a later date to share a special meal and give thanks for good health all around.

I also think your partner should ease up on the emotion around it - yes emotional lability sure, but also your partner is an adult and you are already shouldering the burden of changing plans, communicating those changes, making nice with others' disappointments (not to mention your own) and other fallout, presumably cobbling together a plan-B meal at home, while also taking care of a sick partner and monitoring your own health closely; unloading "full-on overwhelmed loud weeping" at you at the same time is uncalled for.
posted by headnsouth at 3:21 PM on November 20 [2 favorites]

Sorry for that ridiculous novella I wrote, but seriously: what if you decided to go because you both felt okay but then you started to get sick midway through the roadtrip? It's entirely possible that could happen, and I cannot think of anything more nightmarish than trying to deal with the interstate during the Thanksgiving rush while ill with covid.
posted by Don Pepino at 7:14 AM on November 21 [3 favorites]

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