Have I unknowingly hugged my grandparents for the last time?

By Anders Hsi

I have two 92-year-old grandparents doing their best to socially isolate in Albuquerque, New Mexico. Fortunately, they are in excellent health and still live on their own in their own house.

My parents visit them about once per week. They meet on the porch, sitting at either end of the table, keeping six feet apart at all times. They haven’t hugged each other for months. We’re all afraid that we might be asymptomatic carriers of COVID-19, which would likely be deadly for my elderly grandparents if they were to contract the virus. My father is especially high risk because he’s a doctor and is exposed daily to ill people.

We all feel so powerless. Working in Europe far from home and with so much uncertainty that makes it impossible to travel (if I were to go back to the US would I be able to come back to Europe where my girlfriend and I live together and where I need to work?), I try to give my grandparents a phone call at least once per week. My cousins, who also live back home, visit grandpa and grandma and keep a distance like my parents do.

I always have questions racing in my mind. When can we hug my grandparents again? Will COVID-19 end their lives? Will they pass away anyway–something that could happen any time in their advanced age. Have we, unknowingly, already hugged them for the last time?

These questions break my heart, but they also motivate me every day to do all that I can to hug them again. As just one person in a global pandemic I recognize that my efforts are small. But perhaps my efforts could result in being able to hug my grandma even one day earlier than if I were to just sit here helplessly, doing nothing each day.

So what can I do? I want everyone to wear face masks. And I want everyone to be able to wear the face masks that really work–respirator face masks that filter over 95% of air particles; KN95s and N95s. These are the face masks that not only prevent the wearer from infecting others, but also protect the wearer from respiratory emissions. One less person getting infected is not only one less person who suffers from getting sick, and potentially dies, but also one less vector for the virus to spread to others, one thread removed in the dangerous web that might reach my grandparents.

So, every morning when I wake up I envision flying home and going to my grandpa and grandma’s house. I see them opening the door. I see their smiles. And I hug them, as we always have. After visualizing this, I get to work trying to educate people about using the right PPE as well as providing them with access to that PPE; as efficiently, cheaply, and in as large a quantity, reaching and protecting as many people, as I possibly can.

Photo by LOGAN WEAVER on Unsplash.