By Dr Karin van der Merwe, a general practitioner working in Johannesburg. Founding member of GGPC ( Gauteng General Practitioners collaboration) which has a platform for doctors to share resources during COVID-19 . Look for #voicesthatcare on the GGPC Facebook page.
One of the toughest parts of lockdown has been the prohibition on visiting family members. It is with great relief that this restriction has been eased, even if it is only when absolutely necessary.
The reality is that many South Africans have already been visiting their families and this will become more common as restrictions are rolled back. Visiting the elderly is a welcome idea, especially those in nursing homes who have severely limited contact with their families. The doctors of the GGPC would like to help these meetings to happen as safely as possible.
Don’t let down your guard while visiting
It’s so tempting to go back to completely relaxed socialising and let down our guard. We must, however, remain cautious. A second surge of COVID is to be avoided!
So, when you see your family:
- It’s still not advised that you hug and kiss, as tough as this may be for kids and grandparents- speak to both before meeting, to avoid the impulsive embrace.
- Ideally a distance of at least one metre should be maintained at all times.
- Make sanitising hands on entering your house a routine for all visitors.
- Visit in a well ventilated area – outside areas are ideal: a picnic is a fairly safe option, especially if each family stays on their own picnic blanket.
- Keep visits relatively short: as the hours pass, we are more likely to drop our guard.
- Keep the number of guests to a minimum: up to 10 guests are officially allowed in level 2 but even smaller numbers make the party more controlled.
Having meals together while visiting
Exercise extra caution when planning a meal. Think about how you will handle the preparation and serving of food:
- Make sure the person preparing the food does so in a sanitary manner.
- All the guests should wash hands before and after meals.
- Have hand sanitiser or wipes on the table for disinfecting hands when using communal items such as condiments and serving spoons.
Visiting elderly safely
Many nursing homes and retirement villages have kept their residents in jail-like conditions with no visiting privileges. The long term effect of this social deprivation for the elderly has yet to be properly studied, however there are short term studies which show that isolation of the elderly leads to loneliness, depression and anxiety.
A novel idea for visiting the elderly includes booths. Sadly, the prison analogy continues, However, these booths allow for safe visiting between the elderly and their families at an appropriate distance and under supervision. In fact, many elderly are so desperate to see their families that they would welcome any of these conditions.
Even if no physical barrier is erected, it is probable that under the following conditions, viral transmission can be prevented:
- keep an appropriate distance between the family members
- meet in a well ventilated area,
- ensure appropriate mask wearing.
Let’s continue to keep our loved ones safe
This all seems rather extreme but the safer we can make our level 2 meetings, the less likely a second surge of COVID-19 will be. We can be creative and cautious in our return back to normality. The last six months have dragged by and the lockdown has seemed never-ending in some ways. However, South Africa has done well in its efforts to keep the virus at a level the health facilities can cope with. Let us continue to work together towards a safer time.