Everything You Need to Know Before Spending the Night at Your Family's House
Plus, how to stay safe once you're there.
Coronavirus (COVID-19) redefined what is and isn’t normal in our daily lives. I’m not talking about the major changes; I’m talking about the minor ones. I, for one, never imagined that a mask would become as essential as my phone, wallet, and keys. I never imagined going months without seeing my friends in person, and I definitely never imagined quarantining myself away from my entire family upon returning home for the summer. These changes are all rather insignificant in the grand scheme of things, and for that I’m grateful, but they’re still adjustments—and necessary ones at that—because they all come down to keeping ourselves, and each other, safe.
So what can you do if you want to see your family? How can you keep them safe while staying under the same roof for a night? Those are loaded questions, which is why we reached out to experts for answers. Keep reading to see what they had to say.
What to Know Before You Stay the Night
The first thing we have to discuss is what we risk when coming into contact with loved ones, even if it’s just for a night or two—and on the most basic level, we risk spreading and/or contracting COVID-19. Take it from Dr. Richard Firshein, founder and CEO of Laylahealth. “Every person has a unique risk profile and potential to infect others. Managing that risk means understanding what risk category you are in.”
To do that, you have to look at the health conditions of your loved ones (if any) as well as their demographics. “The highest-risk individuals have a comorbidity factor such as obesity, diabetes, heart disease, or hypertension,” Dr. Firshein tells HelloGiggles. “Lesser understood risks include [those with] asthma and autoimmune issues. Men, particularly those above 50, are at greatest risk for dying but younger men also have higher risks associated. Blood type may be protective though. Type O might be less at risk. So in this sense, risk varies.”
Because it’s difficult to know each person’s unique risk profile, and because this isn’t a time to take chances with the health of our loved ones, it’s best to follow a few standard protocols if you do have to spend the night at a family member’s house.
1. Limit potential exposure for two weeks prior to the visit
While everyone should be doing their best to limit potential exposure to the virus regardless of the situation, Arielle Levitan, M.D., cofounder of Vous Vitamin, says it’s ideal to self-quarantine for 14 days before your visit, since that’s the time period in which symptoms can manifest, according to the CDC.
Dr. Firshein agrees, adding that this means not going to bars, restaurants, or parties. That means only venturing out among other people when absolutely necessary, such as when you need to buy groceries or attend an important doctor’s visit.
2. Wear a mask around your family members
Masks can be stuffy and irritating—I get it. Taking yours off, however, can really put your loved ones at risk, especially if you're going to be indoors most of the time. “Masks have become quite controversial, but they really are quite simple barriers in most cases that significantly reduce the exposure to others via droplet formation,” Dr. Firshein explains. “A proper mask will decrease a cough’s impact to a matter of inches versus the 8 to 20 feet without.”
3. Change your clothing when you arrive
While Dr. Firshein recommends removing your clothes the minute you arrive at your family's home, there haven't been enough studies to declare how long exactly the coronavirus lives on fabric materials. For instance, so far only one study has found that the virus can survive on shoes and can cause the person to be exposed if they touch them with their hands and then put their hands on their face.
But even though the risk of contracting the virus through fabric is considered low, it's a good idea to pack a change of clothes in your carry-on if you’re flying or driving so you can quickly change upon arrival. Also, place your shoes outside the door so you’re not tracking anything in, especially if you’ve walked through high-traffic, hard-surfaced areas such as airports, public restrooms, etc.
4. Separate yourself as best as you can
There’s a reason they call it social distancing. Staying six feet apart is perhaps the most basic rule of COVID-19 prevention. According to the CDC, one of the easiest ways the coronavirus can be contracted is by being in close proximity to others who have it for at least 15 minutes. That means not running into your family member’s arms the second you arrive, especially if you're not sure if you or they are asymptomatic. It might be tempting to do so, but it’s best to keep your distance for the time being.
This also goes for sleeping arrangements. If possible, sleep in your own room for the entirety of your visit, keeping your bags and any other belongings in that room as well, even if that means temporarily reconfiguring the home’s normal layout. For example, when I returned home in May, I slept in my parent’s room for two weeks so I could have my own bathroom and living space. They moved into the spare room. Once the two weeks were up, and I was sure I wasn’t carrying COVID-19, and I had properly sanitized everything, we switched back.
5. Keep windows open when possible
Dr. Firshein says that airflow is important and that keeping the windows open is better than turning on the AC, as it can keep the indoor air circulating. Plus, according to the CDC, opening a window will also help slow down the spread of the virus.
However, some people are also investing in air purifiers, specifically those that contain a HEPA filter, for extra precaution. And while it was originally considered a myth that HEPA filters couldn't filter coronavirus particulates, the New York Times has indicated that this could be false—in theory—as this particular filter is known to capture the same size particles that match the coronavirus's. But don't go running out the door to purchase an air purifier just yet. While it's only recently been discussed that the coronavirus is considered airborne by the WHO, it's important to remember that the coronavirus is mostly transmitted through person-to-person contact, according to the CDC as of June 16th. So air purifiers shouldn't be considered a full-proof way of protecting yourself or your family from the virus while you're indoors.
6. Bring the right products with you
If you’re like me, you keep hand sanitizer in your car, in your purse, and in your house. Dr. Firshein recommends taking it with you when visiting a family member’s house, too. The more you use it, the more it becomes a habit, and regularly sanitizing your hands is a great habit to have during a global pandemic. You should also consider bringing “aerosols such as Lysol,” extra masks, and gloves, “just so you don’t run out and risk more exposure," he adds.
Levitan agrees. She recommends bringing “masks, hand sanitizer, wipes, and the appropriate daily vitamins.” Make sure you’re eating healthy and exercising, too. This is a good way to support immunity.
7. Get tested
As COVID-19 tests become widely available (some places now have drive-up testing), it's a good idea to get one, especially if you’re particularly worried about infecting your family members. “Testing, even those that take a few days, are helpful,” Dr. Firshein says. “While [they're] not perfect, they can provide information that will help with early treatment, which is one of the keys to reducing the severity of any COVID-19 infection.”
Aside from the steps laid out above, make sure you’re washing your hands regularly and wiping down high-touch surfaces. At the end of the day, it’s possible to safely visit family members; it just takes some effort and awareness.