I’m immunocompromised — but my in-laws still want to visit from a pandemic hotspot

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Hi, Group Chat,

I recently found out my in-laws are planning to visit my husband and I from out of state in August. They are from Florida and are planning to fly here despite the pandemic. My husband and I live in a rural part of Oregon and have not had anyone in our home since March. I am also immunocompromised.

My in-laws have been wearing masks and social distancing at home, so we are not sure why they feel flying anywhere would be a safe activity for them. We also don’t understand why they would not consider our health, especially mine since I’m so at risk. I feel it is not my position to say no to my in-laws, but my husband and I would love to discourage their visit. Still, I’m not sure what to say or do at this point. Any suggestions?

Sincerely, Distressed Daughter-In-Law

Dear DDIL,

Pamela Reynoso, who lost a step-parent to COVID-19 and whose half-sibling is now hospitalized with the disease (after getting infected by their now-deceased parent), says — I understand that you probably don’t want to seem rude to your in-laws by asking them not to visit. However, we’re living through unprecedented times, and normal hosting etiquette went out the window months ago.

It’s really important for everyone to take this pandemic seriously. Having the disease is awful and not just for the person who gets infected. It is your spouse’s duty to draw the line and request that they stay home and continue to quarantine so they can keep themselves and everyone they love safe. But, if he is not willing to do so, you absolutely should, both for your sake and theirs, especially considering they live in a state that has the second-highest number of reported cases in the country at the moment.

On the flip side, stop to consider that your in-laws’ reason for insisting on the visit may be that they are feeling particularly lonely or isolated after all this time. Perhaps you can offer alternatives on how to stay connected (Zoom dinner parties, starting a book club, a Netflix watch-party, etc.) and try to be more present in their day-to-day (if you aren’t already) so they can feel closer to you two.

Good luck with everything. This is a hard spot to be in, but I promise it’s not as hard as having a loved one lose their life.

Morgan Greenwald, whose parents are also immunocompromised, says — Of course, it’s understandable why your in-laws would want to see their child, especially when the fate of the world feels so uncertain. However, as of writing, Florida has had more than 60,000 confirmed COVID-19 cases in the past seven days, and your in-laws traveling puts both you and them at risk. (Don’t forget — as two older people, they are at risk too, and you can certainly remind them of this!)

The best thing you can do right now is explain to your in-laws that, while you and your S.O. would love to see them, it’s a lose-lose situation for everyone. As an alternative, you can suggest scheduling weekly Zoom calls, and perhaps even plan for them to visit once Florida (and the rest of the country) has the pandemic more under control. Whatever you decide to do and say, I would make sure that you and your S.O. are united; if your in-laws see and understand that this is coming from both of you, they will likely be much more understanding and won’t pin all the blame on you for keeping them from their “baby.” (I say this as someone who is getting married soon and who often has to navigate the vicious and unforgiving world of in-laws.)

Just remember: Your health and safety always come first, and though your in-laws might be upset with you at first for saying no, they’ll understand and come around.

Katie Mather, who even outside of a pandemic doesn’t like people visiting her, says — Not to be totally rude right off the bat, but what is your husband’s deal? If he’s actively telling his parents that not only is it a bad idea for them to be encased in a metal germ box (what I call planes), but that their Floridian presence is a threat to his beautiful wife’s health, why are they still coming?

I get that it’s uncomfortable because you feel like it’s not your place to say no here, but trust me, it’s going to be way more uncomfortable if someone ends up getting sick after the visit. If your husband doesn’t put his foot down, you need to rise to the occasion and say something to your in-laws. To ease any potential tension, perhaps send them flowers with a card that says, “Thanks for not coming.”

Kimberly Te, a lifelong germaphobe, says — You mention that your in-laws have been social distancing, but given that social distancing has meant a wide range of things to different people, it might be a good idea to ask what their current definition of social distancing is before making a decision. The information regarding COVID-19 has been changing rapidly so it makes sense why you and your in-laws may be on different pages.

While I personally would not allow someone to fly in for a visit during this time, I also know people who regard flying as a safe activity given the recent safety measures being implemented by some airlines. Regardless, if this situation makes you even the slightest bit uncomfortable, then this is a good time to set strong boundaries on what is and isn’t okay from them.

However, if confrontation is truly impossible, this article highlights how it is sometimes easier to “delegate the decision” — so, instead of saying you don’t want them to come because you think they are being unsafe, it might be easier for your husband to say that they should not visit because he is worried about your safety as an immunocompromised person. At the end of the day, your health is the top priority. If you come off as rude in this situation, they’ll most likely get over it soon enough. 

Justin Chan, whose father is an essential worker in NYC, says — This is a tough situation, but you should feel comfortable enough to tell your in-laws that they’re putting your health — and their own — at risk. As someone whose father is still experiencing health symptoms from 9/11, I’ve tried to limit my visits to my parents’ apartment during this time because I’m worried that my presence can put my dad’s life in serious danger.

Though my parents are a little disappointed that I haven’t seen them much in the past five months, they understand that I’m, in fact, doing everyone a favor. Life is precious and very fragile— even a one-off visit can bring a huge amount of uncertainty that can compromise someone’s health. Do the right thing, and tell them they should wait several months before visiting (especially if they’re coming from a COVID-19 hotspot like Florida). You’re not just protecting your health; you’re also protecting theirs.

TL;DR — No one likes fighting with their in-laws. But when your two options are either that or risking death, it seems keen to go with the former. Have your husband sit his parents down virtually and explain the gravity of the situation, making certain they understand that this is about the health of both you as an immunocompromised person and them as an older couple. And then, once the band-aid has been ripped off, launch into planning some virtual activities for the weekend they would have been in town. We’re all a bit lonelier right now than we were five months ago, but an in-person visit that puts everyone involved at risk just isn’t worth the momentary relief.

If you liked this article, check out our last Group Chat, and click here to submit your own question.

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