Mother’s Day during coronavirus: A doctor’s tips for celebrating safely

Mother’s Day is this Sunday. Although I am a mom, this year I am thinking more about my role as a daughter. Because of the coronavirus pandemic, it’s been more than eight weeks since I have seen my mom. I miss her. 

The first week of March, I had the difficult conversation with my 75-year-old mom about staying home. My parents live together in New Jersey, about an hour from me. Prior to the pandemic, we saw them in person two or three times a month. Like most of my friends, I spent a lot of time convincing parents to isolate at home, away from their friends, Mah Jongg games and clubhouse gatherings.    

But now it’s two months later and COVID-19 isn’t going away. We are starting to see “social distancing fatigue” and impromptu gatherings as the weather gets nicer. This led me to ask, “Can I see my mom for Mother’s Day?”

The CDC has issued guidelines for large gatherings, but they don’t show us how to re-engage with our loved ones in smaller groups. As human beings, we are social creatures; we need each other. And more often than not, we need more people than the ones living in our household. So it’s important that we figure these things out together as we step into this next phase and begin reestablishing our networks, our lives. 

We keep hearing that local, state and federal strategies for testing, tracing and tracking are critically important, and they are, but for now they are disjointed and poorly organized. If we want to gather now, the burden lies with us. It starts with us knowing how to do each of these things ourselves so that we can begin responsibly socializing. I don’t have all the answers — no one does — but I do see a framework to get us going, a series of questions we can ask ourselves and those around us. And this doesn’t only apply to your mom.

  • Do you know how well each person you are seeing has been isolating? Do you know if they have had COVID-19 and what their versions of isolation have been? 

  • Do you know how to get tested for COVID-19 near you? Do you need a referral or do you have to make an appointment? What is the turnaround time for results?

  • If you do get sick, could you track down everyone you’ve seen from your recent gathering and tell them to get tested? Do you feel comfortable encouraging them to isolate and trust that they’ll be just as diligent in their own tracing? 

What precautions should people take before visiting Mom on Mother's Day? (Photo: Getty Images stock image)
What precautions should people take before visiting Mom on Mother's Day? (Photo: Getty Images stock image)

With each person you bring into your circle, you must be able to answer these questions. And further, you must be able to accept the risk that you will get them sick, or vice versa. Know that gatherings have a proportional impact; a driveway barbecue with two friends has far less potential impact than a child’s birthday party. It’s imperative that we choose wisely when deciding which and how many people to see. 

So now that we’ve established the who, let’s move onto the how. Going into a gathering, it’s important to have frank conversations with your friends and family about what to expect. Acknowledge that these guidelines will be different, and often difficult, but also necessary.

  • How can we see these people we trust in the safest way possible? 

  • What are the ground rules that we want to establish?

  • Assume that everyone (including you) is an asymptomatic carrier who will get others sick. This means minimizing risk of transmission through social distancing guidelines, wearing masks within six feet and washing hands. 

  • Act like they will infect you, and you will infect them. And if you do decide to interact with someone without these precautions, make sure that you’ve actively accepted that risk. 

My plan for this weekend is simple.  

  • Drive to see my mom for a single outdoor meal.  

  • Wash our hands and face when we arrive and sit six feet apart, far enough so that we can take our masks off. 

  • If anyone is desperate for a hug, masks go back on and we wash hands again right after. 

  • Whoever cooks or plates food must wash hands before and wear a mask during prep. 

  • Sit around a large table, with seats noticeably far apart, and enjoy some non-Zoom time together.

  • Return to our homes for the next few days, hoping that we will all be OK. 

Finally, know that even done with the utmost care, this is all going to be a series of successful and failed experiments. As with any experiment, we won’t always get it totally right. But, at least in our family, it seems like Mother’s Day is a good time to start to try.

If you want know more about COVID readiness in your local area, check out Covid Act Now.

Dr. Kass is an associate professor of Emergency Medicine at Columbia University Medical Center and a Yahoo News Medical Correspondent. She lives in Brooklyn, N.Y. with her husband and three kids.

Social distancing is a part of our everyday lives. The below experience allows you to place art in the space between. Place the image in front of you and move it around to line up with your loved one.

For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC’s and WHO’s resource guides. 

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