A-Z

Covid-19 in the community

Caring at a distance

In this section, we talk about people’s thoughts on finding a way to care at a distance, and how they supported others living outside of the immediate household. 
 
People expressed significant worries about older adults, or adults with significant health issues who were living alone or without outside support. People we talked with also worried about providing support to parents, caring for new babies or for family members who had suffered bereavements. In this section, we explore people’s reflections on navigating their responsibilities for care at a distance, including:

  • Providing care and support to people living nearby
  • Providing support to people living further away

Caring for people living nearby

Many people we spoke to who were responsible for caring for others living nearby felt that they simply had to provide this care and did not thinking twice about the risk of catching Covid through care.
 

 

Elvis was not worried about catching Covid from his father because he was more concerned about looking after him.

Elvis was not worried about catching Covid from his father because he was more concerned about looking after him.

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Your dad is like you have your own child. It’s your blood, you know. You do things for him even though you know you’re going to get it you know. I was not worried that I’m going to get sick or what. What I wanted was my dad to get better, you know. So I would wash him, I would do, you know. I would shave him, I would give him food, you know. And he would breathe on me even though I’m wearing a mask or not, you know. He would do all of those things. And then and then and because I knew he had Covid, I knew already that I’m not going to go anywhere outside, you know.


 
This was even in situations when caregiving could put themselves, or the person they were caring for, at risk of Covid. Some people described making precise calculations of the risk of Covid transmission. Sue was happy to care for her elderly parents partly because, unlike her siblings, she lived on her own so she felt she wouldn’t be putting anybody else at risk if she were to contract Covid. She described making these decisions about the risk of Covid transmission ‘with her heart’.
 
 

Sue described calculating the risks of Covid transmission when she was caring for her elderly parents.

Sue described calculating the risks of Covid transmission when she was caring for her elderly parents.

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No, I’d, I didn’t think twice about it, I just went, and I had said, you know, “if you need me, ring me” and my mum, you know, my mum did ring me, and I was the only person basically they would ring. And I knew that because I live on my own, I wouldn’t have been putting anybody else at risk.

 

I knew when I was with my parents, I was likely to get it because I’d been up so close particularly with my dad, you know, because you have to get close to him, a) to feed him and give him his medication but [b)] also because he can’t hear you. So, we’re both shouting at each other, which increases the chance of, you know, air transmission, through the air so to me I thought it was almost inevitable to be honest.

And often people make those decisions with their heart rather than, you know, rather thinking about them, they’re instinctive sometimes and then when you’ve done it once, you think, ‘Oh I’ve done it once therefore I might as well do it again,’ you know.


 
Providing care and support was extremely important to people we spoke to and made them feel like ‘good’ humans. When social distancing rules and guidelines made people question whether they should provide care or support, this made them feel bad, and sometimes created rifts in relationships.
 
 

Abdul ignored doubts about whether it would be safe to attend his nephew’s funeral because he wanted to support his bereaved family.

Abdul ignored doubts about whether it would be safe to attend his nephew’s funeral because he wanted to support his bereaved family.

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We finally sorted out the transport and what we were, you know, what funeral arrangements, where he’s going to get buried and all that sort of aspects. So then when the funeral happened we, it was the Friday after I believe and again that was, you know, I was still in [place] then and then had to go up to the up to London for the funeral. And again it was just like, the feeling that I think your mind, where okay, I should, and it sounds bad for me saying it now, but it’s more like, should I really be exposing myself my wife and my daughter to this and then sort of like wait a minute he he’s my nephew we need to be showing support, you know.

 

Relationships in Kashif’s family were tested when not everyone attended a funeral.

Relationships in Kashif’s family were tested when not everyone attended a funeral.

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My dad’s sister’s son passed away. He had cancer already. He had cancer for about four or five years and then this Covid just come into it and then apparently he got the Covid. He died as well. ‘Cos everything was lockdown, we couldn't even go. So, we didn’t go that was, that caused a lot of problems between my dad and his sister [laugh].


 
Samena described ringing a government helpline to check whether she was allowed to provide care to her elderly parents in spite of the social distancing rules and guidance. Other people we spoke tried to find way of working around social distancing rules and guidance so they could provide care to others.
 
 

Samena called a government helpline to check whether she was allowed to care for her parents.

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Samena called a government helpline to check whether she was allowed to care for her parents.

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I lived a couple of doors down so that would be even closer, we lived in the city centre before, it was, you know, purely for that fact that we could look after them because my mum was really struggling to look after my dad, she’s got really bad arthritis as well. So I was like their official carer and I had to phone up the, you know, the, you know, the government helpline to find out can I go and visit and I was told I can go in and help, you know, wearing a mask I could drop off their shopping for them and I can go in and, you know, help them cook or clean but just keep my two meter distance which was what I was trying to do.

 

Esther saw ‘no two ways about it’ when it came to caring for her grandparents.

Esther saw ‘no two ways about it’ when it came to caring for her grandparents.

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My granddad was really, really ill. And then there were a couple of, there were a couple of days when various family members had to go and look after my grandma. And there was just no, you know, there were no two ways about it, you know, at the time. Whether or not it was allowed or legal or whatever. You know, my granddad was dying. Thank, thankfully, at home, you know, which is a real blessing. But my grandma was there by herself and she wouldn't, you know, she, she can’t manage by herself and so we would kind of take it in shifts to go and kind of look after her and make sure she was eating.


 
People felt that the support bubbles policy, which let people create a support network linking two households, was helpful in enabling them to provide care.
 
 

Claudia formed a support bubble with her mother to help her feel less isolated.

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Claudia formed a support bubble with her mother to help her feel less isolated.

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She had a very good social life up until the lockdown so and it changed things, it changed a lot. I think, this is my perspective, she might say something different, I think it made her quite, become quite isolatory until we were able to go round, you know, I’d encourage her to go for a walk and things like that but it’s hard especially when you don’t know where the virus is from or how you’re gonna get it, it’s difficult to encourage somebody else to do something that you’d do yourself.


 
Sometimes people we spoke to were going into another person’s home to provide care and support. They described being aware of the risks of Covid transmission. They tried to limit the risks in a number of ways: 

  • maintaining physical distance
  • wearing masks and visors
  • cleaning surfaces
  • keeping windows open

However, people described how even with all these efforts Covid could still be transmitted in close contact.
 

 

Samena was ‘extra careful’ about Covid transmission whenever she visited her parents’ house but still passed Covid on to them.

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Samena was ‘extra careful’ about Covid transmission whenever she visited her parents’ house but still passed Covid on to them.

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Unfortunately my mum ending up catching it from me. At the time that I didn’t even know that I had it and my husband was obviously doing their shopping for them so we were dropping off the bags and, you know we, we just struggled to try and figure out what we’d done and, you know, how they managed to catch it, so we’d obviously been at the house and touched something or something’s happened and that’s how they’ve ended up catching it. So that was a really, you know, scary time because my mum was actually hospitalised due to it because of, you know, she has you know, she got a really bad sort of chest infection with it and then my dad caught it from my mum. So that was, that was my biggest fear through this pandemic was, you know, my mum and dad, you know, but thankfully, you know, they both recovered, both had to go into hospital but thankfully they both recovered.

 

Sue was mostly socially distant with her father, but sometimes he wanted to hold her hand.

Sue was mostly socially distant with her father, but sometimes he wanted to hold her hand.

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We always social distance and we haven’t hugged or anything like that but when I was there, you know, I did hold my dad’s hand and that kind of thing and when we left him at any time or when I left, when I went over he’d always want to touch you because he couldn’t see you, you know, just touch your hand as a way of saying goodbye, you know, and to me, I wouldn’t have been able to say no to that, you know, that but that was my choice you know. But I suppose I was potentially putting him at risk as much as vice versa so it’s a really but as you say everyone has their own, their own assessment of risk, their own threshold, their own priorities when they’re risk assessing and so forth.


 
To make it easier to provide care, some people we spoke to moved in with the person they were caring for, or had that person move in with them. This could bring new risks of Covid transmission if, for example, one person in the new household was being exposed to Covid in other places.
 
 

When Pooja had Covid, one daughter went to live with her parents and another daughter stayed at home.

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When Pooja had Covid, one daughter went to live with her parents and another daughter stayed at home.

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My younger, my middle daughter, she actually went across to go and stay with her granny and grandad. As soon as this all happened and we were going into a lockdown, it was announced that we were going into a lockdown, when I was in my room. She says, “I have to go and stay with granny and grandad.” Because her mental health was going to go down. Because we were all worried that they were going to be because my brother, he lives in [City]. So he couldn’t even travel to come and see mum and dad, you know. And we were so worried about how they were going to be because I was obviously, I was over it as well, I was out of action for almost six weeks. You know, so it was a godsend that she like my children are very close to my mum and dad so it was, my middle, my older daughter stayed home so she could be with my son when my husband was asleep because my husband works during the nights. So she was there for my son, for childcare. Because I was in my room the whole time. I couldn’t help at all with them. So my middle daughter went across and stayed the whole pandemic with mum the whole lockdown.

 

Dorte’s mother-in-law moved in, and she worried about bringing Covid home from her job as a care home manager.

Dorte’s mother-in-law moved in, and she worried about bringing Covid home from her job as a care home manager.

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But, in that time, Covid set aside and everything else, my mother-in-law then we had loads of phone calls from the hospital. They needed to and wanted to discharge her, despite her being really poorly. She lives on her own so she couldn’t go back to her own place. They were going to send her back to her own house and we said, “Well, you know, you can’t do that. She can’t look after herself and she’ll end back up in hospital.” So, she came to stay with us, and she stayed with us for a month and, again, from my personal experience, she was very poorly still when she came to stay with us. We were very concerned all of us, of course, still passing Covid onto her, me still going into work and yeah, it was a tough time.

Providing support to others living further away

People we spoke to described wanting to check in on others living further away and make sure they were okay. Phone calls, WhatsApp groups and video calls became an important channel for providing support to others who were far away. Helen thought that phone calls weren’t good enough for finding out how people were coping. Pooja and Matt valued these avenues for keeping in touch and checking that vulnerable family members were not feeling isolated.
 

 

Pooja valued a group chat with her siblings and cousins as a way of checking in on older relatives.

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Pooja valued a group chat with her siblings and cousins as a way of checking in on older relatives.

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My brother, like we had a group chat going with all our cousins so we were all constantly in touch. And with my aunties, I was doing a video call with them once a week. Every Sunday, we’d all sit down and have our video call and just you know, see how everybody is doing, check in on each other and just make sure our mental health wasn’t affected, everybody was just and health keeping well.

 

Matt talks about how regular zoom calls in his family provided valuable support to older people.

Matt talks about how regular zoom calls in his family provided valuable support to older people.

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We, like many set up a family Zoom quiz once a month. And with anywhere, it was anywhere between say 12 and 25 participants. And we’ve kept those up and I think although it’s, it’s unsaid, I still feel like I’m the younger generation where we are my generation and the generation below me, we’re all keeping it up for the benefit of the oldies to be absolutely honest. You know, we could face the, us youngsters in our 50s we’ve been happily Facetime with each other whenever we like. We don’t need to have anything organised. But it’s to give the older generation in our family a sense of involvement and being able to see everybody on the screen and see that everybody’s okay, ‘cos that’s what they really care about most. And we’ve also what I often do, in fact yesterday so it’s probably, it’s another four weeks. We had a Zoom quiz yesterday from one of the cousins, was 60th birthday we had a sort of an online cocktail party as well. We all made the same cocktail to celebrate with him in Australia. But I think after those occasions my aunt feels a bit flat, you know, ‘cos she’s locked, locked down and can’t see her kids. Can’t see her nephews and nieces or whatever. So, you know, I sent her some online articles about stuff we’d ended up discussing on the call. Just so there’s something else to keep engaged and socialised and I know I will get a really nice email back. She’d have read the articles, thought them interesting or even if she didn’t, she’ll pretend that she did. You know, it keeps her involved and it gives her yeah, that continued engagement with not just ‘cos it’s family, but with the outside world.


 
For those with family overseas international travel was very important in being able to provide care and support to vulnerable family members. Razia described her mother’s struggles in visiting the UK during the pandemic to help with the care of new babies in the family.
 
 

Razia’s mother wanted to be with her at the end of her pregnancy, so she went through the difficulties of international travel.

Razia’s mother wanted to be with her at the end of her pregnancy, so she went through the difficulties of international travel.

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My sister-in-law and myself, due in September and October, so the plan was that mum was going to come from May and then stay until our babies were going to be born but then because there was like all the restrictions, this that, mum couldn’t come. She missed my sister’s birth in May. So she missed her having her son. And then because we were unsure we kind of planned to be without her, if that makes sense. And then come September, first week of September, my mum did come because it kind of eased, at that point, in August. So she did come and it was all a palaver because we had, you know, the whole flying over, the getting, when she’d done the test, she got to the airport and they said, “You didn’t have it done by the right clinic.” So she actually go on and change her flight so, you know, it was all very stressful. So even something that, the fact that it was great that she was making it for my nephew’s birth but it was just the added stress. Is she going to? Is she not going to? And then she stopped, because there was a stopover in Turkey, their rules for flying were different and there was online forms that should have been filled before she boarded that she didn’t know. No one told us that, when you book the flights, no one tells you. So there was all this stuff and that was really stressing. And then she made it for that though. So she made it for my nephew’s birth and she made it for my son’s birth.

 


 
For more on people’s reflections on caring within the household, see 'Caring for each other and managing transmission of Covid at home'. 

 

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