Homes with grandparents weigh virus risk as school starts

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Zita Robinson, left, who's 77 and diabetic, blows a kiss to her granddaughter Traris "Trary" Robinson-Newman, 8, who blows a kiss back to her, Tuesday, Aug. 4, 2020, in Phoenix. Robinson has been careful around her granddaughter amid the coronavirus pandemic. (AP Photo/Ross D. Franklin)

PHOENIX – Zita Robinson, who's 77 and diabetic, has been careful around her granddaughter since the coronavirus pandemic took hold.

A door connects Robinson's apartment in Phoenix to the main house where 8-year-old Traris “Trary” Robinson-Newman and her mother live, but it mostly stays shut. Their only physical contact is if Trary walks in with her back toward Grandma. Then Robinson will kiss her own hand and lightly touch Trary's back — "like I’m sending her a kiss with my hand.”

“It's very hard,” Robinson said. “We live together, but we live apart.”

Not hugging Grandma is hard for Trary, too: “It's like I can't see her anymore."

The separation Trary and her grandmother experience in their home is becoming a bigger issue as children go back to school. Many public schools nationwide are starting remotely in the fall, but if classes resume in person later this year, the chasm could grow between generations who live together.

Millions of seniors 65 and up, one of the populations most vulnerable to the virus, live with a school-age child. For those households, the new school year means reconsidering interactions from family dinner to bedtime hugs.

While studies so far suggest children are less likely to become infected with COVID-19 or only experience mild symptoms, data isn't conclusive on whether infected kids easily spread the disease. In a Georgia school district that has reopened classrooms, possible exposure has forced more than 1,200 students and staff into quarantine and two high schools to close.

If a grandchild does bring the virus home, grandparents of color are at higher risk than their white counterparts, experts say.