Can I eat, drink, hug? How to visit a person’s house safely

Up to six people may visit homes of friends and family for a short period

From June 8th, people will be permitted to travel within 20km of their home while still avoiding unnecessary journeys. Photograph: Getty Images

From June 8th, people will be permitted to travel within 20km of their home while still avoiding unnecessary journeys. Photograph: Getty Images

 

As we move into phase two of reopening Ireland following lockdown measures to prevent the spread of coronavirus, how safe is it to have visitors in your home?

What are the changes on June 8th in terms of visiting other people’s homes?

From June 8th, people will be permitted to travel within 20km of their home, or anywhere within the county they live in, while still avoiding unnecessary journeys. Up to six people will be allowed to visit homes of friends and family for a short period while maintaining strict social distancing. A few people will also be allowed to visit the homes of the over-70s or other vulnerable people (so-called cocooners) for a short period of time.

How should we greet family and friends on arrival at our homes?

Seeing a close family member or friend after weeks of not seeing them during lockdown can be emotional, so many people will instinctively want to kiss, hug or shake hands. However, close physical contact with people outside your household is still not advised by medical experts. 

Prof Sam McConkey, infectious disease consultant at Beaumont Hospital, says people should consider this change of behaviour as a “refreshing opportunity to rethink your greeting mode rather than a stress”. You can smile, nod your head, wave, mime a hug from a distance, knock elbows or kick heels. 

Some people might also like to use more formal gestures include placing your right hand on your heart or putting your hands together in the prayer position and bowing slightly.

How long should we stay if visiting family or friends in their homes? 

Prof McConkey says that we need to listen to the advice from the National Public Health Emergency Team (NPHET) when it comes to how long we should stay in the homes of family and friends. “It’s about being unified and following the specific and detailed advice given by Dr Tony Holohan, the Taoiseach and the Minister for Health,” he says.

However, he acknowledges that in counties such as Donegal, Sligo and Leitrim where there are almost no cases of the virus in the past couple of weeks, you could be more relaxed, but if you are a healthcare worker or someone working where there has been an outbreak of the virus, you’d be advised not to visit the homes of family, friends or neighbours. Remember also, people can spread the virus a few days before they show symptoms – and even when they have no symptoms at all.

Would it be better to only see people in their gardens and not go into their houses at all?

Yes, if that’s possible. This disease spreads more easily indoors, particularly in poorly ventilated spaces where people are close together. Seeing people in their gardens allows people to socially distance in a more natural way. Some people can stand, others can sit on chairs, on garden walls or on the grass without feeling awkward. When you are indoors, it’s a bit trickier for everyone to keep physically apart.

What is the advice around sharing food and drinks?

Many people have been very aware of not sharing plates, glasses, cups or cutlery, food or drink of any sort with friends and family during the pandemic. 

However, Prof McConkey says that now, as restrictions lift, we need to develop trust and confidence in doing things again. “We have to start reliving our lives and start building relationships and having fun. This is not a food-borne virus. It is spread through respiratory secretions [principally through droplets from the nose and mouth], and washing [crockery and cutlery] in a dishwasher or with soap and water kills it off.”

Can I drink?

Prof McConkey cautions against drinking too much alcohol. “There has been more drinking during the pandemic, and people become disinhibited when they drink,” he says. So moderation in the consumption of alcohol is the key to keeping everyone safe and protected. 

What else should we be aware of when in other people’s homes?

The NPHET advice on regular and thorough hand-washing and observance of social distancing rules when visiting other people’s homes remains in place. Coughing and sneezing etiquette still applies in all situations, but the key thing to remember is not to visit another person’s home if you have a cough or a fever. 

“If anyone is sick or febrile, they should stay at home, self-isolate and get a test for Covid-19,” says McConkey. Wearing a face covering is an added precaution to protect yourself from touching your face and to protecting others from catching the virus – if you have it without knowing. 

Good personal hygiene is something that one hopes has improved during the pandemic, but Prof McConkey says it’s important to clean the toilet after you use it if you are visiting someone else’s home. Remaining vigilant about hand-washing before and after using the toilet and before eating food is obvious but not always remembered.

Are there extra precautions about visiting the homes of vulnerable people and those over 70? 

Yes, the HSE advises people to wear face coverings and gloves when visiting the homes of vulnerable people and those over 70. This advice is to prevent the potential spread of the virus to those who are more at risk of becoming seriously ill with it. And, most importantly, don’t visit the home of a vulnerable adult if you feel unwell. 

What should I do after family and friends leave the house?  

Normal domestic hygiene practices such as cleaning down kitchen counters and tables after eating is a good idea. “Soft covering such as couches and carpets are less of an issue but you should clean counters and wooden arms of chairs with soap and water after use. We need to get back to living our lives without being paralysed by fear and anxiety,” says Prof McConkey.

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