(CNN)One of the top concerns we hear from listeners is whether it's safe for grandparents to visit their grandchildren in person. CNN Chief Medical Correspondent Dr. Sanjay Gupta asks that question to infectious disease and geriatrics specialist Dr. Preeti Malani.
When Can I See My Grandkids? Dr. Sanjay Gupta's coronavirus podcast for June 25
You can listen on your favorite podcast app or read the transcript below.
Mr. Rogers: I found some grandmothers and grandfathers, and I recorded their voices on this cassette, after I asked them what their grandchildren called them.
Dr. Sanjay Gupta: You probably recognize that voice: Mr. Rogers.
Mr. Rogers: Here's what they said.
Voice 1: Our grandchildren call me Pap Pap, and grandmother, Grandma.
Mr. Rogers: Pap Pap and Grandma.
Voice 2: I have five terrific grandchildren, some of them call me Bubbe, some of them call me Gram.
Mr. Rogers: Bubbe and Gram.
Gupta: My kids call their grandparents Dada and Dadi. But since this pandemic began, my daughters have only been able to call them on the phone and see them on video chats. No family dinners, no birthday parties, no hugs. And I know that's the case for many of you listening.
Grandparents can be incredibly influential in kids' lives. That's why it's so painful that those over 65 are especially vulnerable to Covid-19. Many grandparents have not been able to see their families for months, and they're desperate to know when and how they can safely change that.
So today I'm going to ask that very question to my friend of more than 30 years, Dr. Preeti Malani. She specializes in infectious diseases and geriatrics and is the chief health officer at the University of Michigan.
I'm Dr. Sanjay Gupta, CNN's chief medical correspondent. And this is "Coronavirus: Fact vs. Fiction."
I have to tell you, one of the most common questions I get, you know my family well. So this is the questions asked of my own family a lot. My parents have five granddaughters, three of my daughters and my brother Suneel, who lives up in Michigan where you are, has two daughters.
And we're constantly asked by my parents, when can they see the grandchildren again? What should I tell my parents? What should people tell their grandparents about when they might be able to see them again?
Dr. Preeti Malani, chief health officer, University of Michigan: I get asked this question a lot, too. And there is no love that is more genuine than the love between grandparents and grandchildren. It's so important. It's not just love. It's this social, emotional well-being.
And, it's this idea of: Can you get to a point where there's acceptable risk? Because frankly, the — the least risky thing is to not see them. But that's also not without risk. We focus so much on the risk of Covid that we forget that there's also a social emotional well-being piece for the grandparents and the kids, and that loneliness, social isolation, are not good, particularly for older adults.
So what would I tell them? Sort of depends on what's happening in other people's lives. Like, I know you have been pretty much staying at home and recording and, and I'm sure Suneel's also probably been staying home and, you know, your parents would require them to travel. But to me, that's an acceptable risk. Everyone's kind of been in place.
The differences might be is if you have young kids that are going to day care, you know, that introduces a different kind of risk. Certainly, if anyone has any symptoms, there shouldn't be any visiting.
Gupta: When we, when we think about viruses, if you go back to the last pandemic we dealt with, H1N1, people may not remember, but that seemed to affect children more than it affected adults or certainly elderly people. As it turns out, it wasn't that lethal. But what is it about this virus, do you think, that puts elderly people at higher risk of these, these more severe complications?
Malani: The reasons why this affects older people is speculative. You know, in general, there's been a lot about comorbid conditions and diabetes and obesity and hypertension. The question is, is that just what people look like demographically, who are older? But it's a very interesting thing, particularly as we think about opening up day cares and K through 12 that kids seem to get infected from adults, not vice versa. And I don't understand why that is. And that's one of the many mysteries of this pandemic.
Gupta: I mean, I think about that part of it a lot. I think about my kids. You know, God forbid that they spend time with grandparents and then their grandparents get sick. I think it would be very hard psychologically for them. So we've been very careful.
I mean, even — even — there's been times when we could have used the extra help just in terms of helping manage three teenage, almost teenage girls', you know, lives and it's been really challenging. And I know for you as well, Preeti, Dr. Malani, your own grandmother passed away at the age of 97. I was sorry to — sorry to hear that. It wasn't Covid related, it sounds like. But how did you, how did you handle that as a family? I mean, what happened?
Malani: Yeah. Thank you, first of all, for your condolences, Sanjay. Yes. So my grandmother had a very long and healthy life. And she had been asking me to come because her health had been declining a little bit and she wanted to talk to me. And it was quite urgent.
And so I, I made the decision to go and see her in April. And, you know, just be careful. I knew that I wasn't ill and I had been doing a pretty good job at that point of not really being in any, any kind of patient care environment for several weeks.
So, again, of the parallel tragedies of this pandemic is also that even without Covid, it if you end up in the hospital, visitation, just ability to, to advocate for your older family members is very limited. And I think it's, it's hard on families. It's hard on patients. I don't know that people have thought about all those things and how different the world is if you, if you have a routine illness right now.
Gupta: Life is a series of risk/reward decisions. But I do run into the scenario a lot, it hasn't happened with my own parents, but with my mother-in-law a little bit where it's this idea, I guess the best way to describe it is that, she's like, "Look, I'm old, you know, this is my life. The only thing that gives me meaning in my life is to spend time with my kids and grandkids. And I get it. I'm not, I'm not being ignorant to what's happening in the world. But for me, I don't have many years left. Am I going to lose my meaning in the few years that I have?" Is that a fair decision, do you think, for them to make or is that being a little insensitive to the current situation?
Malani: I feel it is a very fair assessment. And again, it is a risk/reward and there's a difference between the reckless and then taking an acceptable risk. And we don't know what the risk of Covid is for most people. We assume sometimes that it's really big and that all of us are asymptomatic carriers and we're going to infect everyone. But the truth is, is that that's probably not the case.
And, you know, there's a way that we can sort of balance risk. Like you can stop at the rest area, do your business, wash your hands and get out of there. And I don't think that that is going to put you at risk of Covid. So somehow we need to, like, learn how to estimate risk in a situation where you truly can't estimate it.