Many parents have chronicled the challenges of navigating their new COVID-19 era realities. From working from home with kids and juggling the demands of remote learning to grappling with lost income, families across the country are facing issues they never predicted.
However, extended families have also faced unique struggles since the pandemic began in early 2020.
For people like Maria Hernandez of Los Angeles, California, living with her mother, husband, children, and granddaughter is a normal way of life, something they couldn’t adjust in response to the pandemic. So when Hernandez was diagnosed with COVID-19, she spent 7 weeks isolated in her bedroom in order to protect the rest of her family, especially her elderly mother.
“It was an experience that I don’t wish upon anybody,” Herndandez shared later. “I had to stop doing what I did, giving her a hug. We Latinos are used to that, giving them a hug, a kiss on the cheek.”
Multi-generational housing is especially common among Asian, Hispanic, and Black families, according to an analysis by the pew Research Center. But unfortunately, this has possibly contributed to another trend: the higher rate of COVID-19 cases and deaths among Latino families in California and other minority families across the country.
For Some Extended Families, Living Together Is a Way of Life
When grandparents, parents, and children live together under the same room, it naturally raises the risk of COVID-19 transmission.
“Our seniors are often isolated. Multigenerational households offer that built-in way of making sure that people are still living in community,” explains Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, professor and chair of the Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics at the University of California, San Francisco. “But it does pose an additional challenge as our younger people are out working.”
This is especially dangerous when extended families live together in small apartments or homes. One woman in her 20s, for example, was sharing a one-bedroom apartment with three generations when she was exposed to the coronavirus. She ultimately exposed her parents, young infant, sister, and child to the disease.
What Does the CDC Say About It?
According to the CDC, “Older adults and people of any age who have serious underlying medical conditions are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. If your household includes people in these groups, then all family members should act as if they, themselves, are at higher risk.”
The CDC acknowledges that this can be difficult for multigenerational families living in a limited space, so it provides the following guidelines when leaving the household becomes absolutely necessary- as it is for most working families.
- Avoid crowds, including social gatherings of any size
- Keep at least 6 feet away from other people
- Wash your hands often
- Don’t touch frequently touched public surfaces
- Don’t use public transportation
- Clean and disinfect your home regularly using EPA-registered disinfectants
However, even with the added complications of living together during a pandemic, many families believe it is still the best choice for the elderly. “It’s better for them,” said Hernandez. “They don’t feel like they’re alone.”