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When Can Grandparents Meet the Newborn?

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One of the most difficult aspects of the Covid-19 pandemic is that it is has forced families and friends to miss out on life events. Weddings, birthdays, bat mitzvahs and everything else in between have been canceled or sent to Zoom. Last week, instead of attending a normal graduation ceremony, we drove my oldest around the track of his high school and he was handed a diploma case through a window.

Perhaps no occasion is more painful to miss, however, than the birth of a grandchild. After all, babies only grow, and a missed opportunity to see a newborn can never be replaced.

When the pandemic raged in March and April, little data existed on where and in whom the coronavirus was spreading, so public health officials understandably urged maximum caution. They had good reason to do so. Many people were infected, lots didn’t even know it, and we lacked the testing to know where and who they were.

Things are different now. As hospitalizations decreased and the infection rate slowed in some areas, much of the country has begun to loosen restrictions. While a month ago it seemed impossible for grandparents to meet their latest grandchild, families now want to know if it’s safe — and how to do it.

We will never reduce the risk of infection to zero. But there are steps we can take to minimize risks. If families are willing to follow them, it should be reasonably safe for babies and grandparents to meet each other.

So far, data suggest that newborns are not at significantly high risk complications related to coronavirus. The occasional case report may raise alarm, but, in general, they don’t appear to be getting seriously ill from Covid-19. New moms and dads are at slightly higher risk of serious complications than their children, but unless they have chronic illnesses, few would be expected to be severely affected.

Covid-19 is most problematic in older people (e.g., grandparents) because they are the ones who are most likely to become severely ill or die when they get infected. More than 40% of the people who have died from the coronavirus lived in nursing homes. Even outside of that setting, it is thought that the infection fatality rate (the percentage of people who die from infection) among older adults is significantly higher.

New parents should be mindful that they’re at higher risk of being infected because they just spent a significant amount of time at the hospital. Because of that, most experts I spoke to recommended that parents socially distance with their newborn for at least two weeks and said visits from anyone aren’t safe during that time.

But careful isolation (i.e. quarantine even if you feel well) can make the risks minimal. After two weeks, people can be reasonably sure they’re not infected.

“I would say, self isolation for a new mom, dad, mom/dad, dad/dad or mom/mom for two weeks, then go for it. To be equally safe, grandparents should isolate for two weeks as well,” said Gregg Gonsalves, Ph.D., a professor of epidemiology and law at Yale University.

After that, it’s just logistics.

We don’t want anyone getting exposed on their way to meet each other, so I would not recommend air travel as part of this equation. In general, I’m not yet comfortable with the idea of air travel for older adults. So, ideally, grandparents should drive to meet their grandchildren alone. If they can’t, then bringing the baby to them (again, alone) is best. If it’s a long drive, bring food and drink along, try not to stop and — if you must stop — continue to practice good hygiene (hand washing) along the way.

Don’t plan a party. The group should be held to as few people as possible. Ideally parents, baby and grandparents only; siblings who’ve been isolated along with the family are probably OK too. Anyone else who wants to experience the happy moment can join in by Zoom or FaceTime.

All the other rules about meeting a newborn still apply. Everyone should be healthy, and no one should have cold, cough or flu symptoms of any kind. Everyone should wash their hands and be conscious of what they’re touching in general, especially faces. Everyone should also be up-to-date on their vaccines, according to current guidelines. A baby’s pediatrician is a good resource for all of these recommendations, since they are routine even when there’s not a pandemic going on.

The good news is that it’s likely even safe for grandparents to hold a newborn if everyone is careful. Keep all contact as minimal as possible — we want to protect grandparents! — but if they must have a photo or won’t sleep until they’ve held their grandchild, it’s probably OK.


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  • Frequently Asked Questions and Advice

    Updated June 16, 2020

    • What is pandemic paid leave?

      The coronavirus emergency relief package gives many American workers paid leave if they need to take time off because of the virus. It gives qualified workers two weeks of paid sick leave if they are ill, quarantined or seeking diagnosis or preventive care for coronavirus, or if they are caring for sick family members. It gives 12 weeks of paid leave to people caring for children whose schools are closed or whose child care provider is unavailable because of the coronavirus. It is the first time the United States has had widespread federally mandated paid leave, and includes people who don’t typically get such benefits, like part-time and gig economy workers. But the measure excludes at least half of private-sector workers, including those at the country’s largest employers, and gives small employers significant leeway to deny leave.

    • Does asymptomatic transmission of Covid-19 happen?

      So far, the evidence seems to show it does. A widely cited paper published in April suggests that people are most infectious about two days before the onset of coronavirus symptoms and estimated that 44 percent of new infections were a result of transmission from people who were not yet showing symptoms. Recently, a top expert at the World Health Organization stated that transmission of the coronavirus by people who did not have symptoms was “very rare,” but she later walked back that statement.

    • What’s the risk of catching coronavirus from a surface?

      Touching contaminated objects and then infecting ourselves with the germs is not typically how the virus spreads. But it can happen. A number of studies of flu, rhinovirus, coronavirus and other microbes have shown that respiratory illnesses, including the new coronavirus, can spread by touching contaminated surfaces, particularly in places like day care centers, offices and hospitals. But a long chain of events has to happen for the disease to spread that way. The best way to protect yourself from coronavirus — whether it’s surface transmission or close human contact — is still social distancing, washing your hands, not touching your face and wearing masks.

    • How does blood type influence coronavirus?

      A study by European scientists is the first to document a strong statistical link between genetic variations and Covid-19, the illness caused by the coronavirus. Having Type A blood was linked to a 50 percent increase in the likelihood that a patient would need to get oxygen or to go on a ventilator, according to the new study.

    • How many people have lost their jobs due to coronavirus in the U.S.?

      The unemployment rate fell to 13.3 percent in May, the Labor Department said on June 5, an unexpected improvement in the nation’s job market as hiring rebounded faster than economists expected. Economists had forecast the unemployment rate to increase to as much as 20 percent, after it hit 14.7 percent in April, which was the highest since the government began keeping official statistics after World War II. But the unemployment rate dipped instead, with employers adding 2.5 million jobs, after more than 20 million jobs were lost in April.

    • Will protests set off a second viral wave of coronavirus?

      Mass protests against police brutality that have brought thousands of people onto the streets in cities across America are raising the specter of new coronavirus outbreaks, prompting political leaders, physicians and public health experts to warn that the crowds could cause a surge in cases. While many political leaders affirmed the right of protesters to express themselves, they urged the demonstrators to wear face masks and maintain social distancing, both to protect themselves and to prevent further community spread of the virus. Some infectious disease experts were reassured by the fact that the protests were held outdoors, saying the open air settings could mitigate the risk of transmission.

    • My state is reopening. Is it safe to go out?

      States are reopening bit by bit. This means that more public spaces are available for use and more and more businesses are being allowed to open again. The federal government is largely leaving the decision up to states, and some state leaders are leaving the decision up to local authorities. Even if you aren’t being told to stay at home, it’s still a good idea to limit trips outside and your interaction with other people.

    • What are the symptoms of coronavirus?

      Common symptoms include fever, a dry cough, fatigue and difficulty breathing or shortness of breath. Some of these symptoms overlap with those of the flu, making detection difficult, but runny noses and stuffy sinuses are less common. The C.D.C. has also added chills, muscle pain, sore throat, headache and a new loss of the sense of taste or smell as symptoms to look out for. Most people fall ill five to seven days after exposure, but symptoms may appear in as few as two days or as many as 14 days.

    • How can I protect myself while flying?

      If air travel is unavoidable, there are some steps you can take to protect yourself. Most important: Wash your hands often, and stop touching your face. If possible, choose a window seat. A study from Emory University found that during flu season, the safest place to sit on a plane is by a window, as people sitting in window seats had less contact with potentially sick people. Disinfect hard surfaces. When you get to your seat and your hands are clean, use disinfecting wipes to clean the hard surfaces at your seat like the head and arm rest, the seatbelt buckle, the remote, screen, seat back pocket and the tray table. If the seat is hard and nonporous or leather or pleather, you can wipe that down, too. (Using wipes on upholstered seats could lead to a wet seat and spreading of germs rather than killing them.)

    • Should I wear a mask?

      The C.D.C. has recommended that all Americans wear cloth masks if they go out in public. This is a shift in federal guidance reflecting new concerns that the coronavirus is being spread by infected people who have no symptoms. Until now, the C.D.C., like the W.H.O., has advised that ordinary people don’t need to wear masks unless they are sick and coughing. Part of the reason was to preserve medical-grade masks for health care workers who desperately need them at a time when they are in continuously short supply. Masks don’t replace hand washing and social distancing.

    • What should I do if I feel sick?

      If you’ve been exposed to the coronavirus or think you have, and have a fever or symptoms like a cough or difficulty breathing, call a doctor. They should give you advice on whether you should be tested, how to get tested, and how to seek medical treatment without potentially infecting or exposing others.


I can’t stress enough, however, how important it is to follow all these rules. If your family is not willing to strictly isolate for at least two weeks, I wouldn’t do this. If you’re not willing to keep the group small, I’d be concerned. Certainly, if you live in an area with a high or increasing prevalence of disease, you might want to think about waiting or being extra careful (i.e. not allowing grandparents to hold the baby, staying at least six feet away from each other, wearing masks or perhaps only meeting outside).

Some may think that even with all these precautions in place, it’s still not safe. If they define “safe” as absolutely, positively no risk whatsoever, then they may have a point. But the coronavirus isn’t magical. It isn’t devious or able to get around sensible, careful preventing measures.

“It’s a risk, but we’re all going to have to start making these tough decisions based on our own risk tolerance and circumstances and priorities. Part of the role of public health is giving people the information they need to weigh such decisions thoughtfully,” said Caitlin Rivers, Ph.D., an epidemiologist at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. If everyone involved is committed to isolating, distancing and being very careful, the risk is minimal.

As the fears of an out-of-control outbreak fade, and as we begin to loosen restrictions, being careful and following the rules can make it safe enough for grandparents to start planning to meet their newborn grandchildren.

Natalie Dean, Ph.D., an assistant professor of biostatistics at the University of Florida, said, “I think if people are very careful for two weeks and have no symptoms or exposures, then close relatives could visit and hold the baby. My mother-in-law came down two weekends ago, after quarantining in preparation. In the end, there needs to be a balance.”

Rapid, reliable testing would make so much of this easier, but in the interim, careful and thoughtful planning can still bring the old and the very young together.

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