We totally get doing what you think is best for your family and those mama bear instincts, but sometimes looking out for your own means looking out for everybody else's, too.

By Libby Ryan
April 03, 2020

Now entering another week of coronavirus-necessitated homebound life, cabin fever is starting to sink in for many families around the country—especially in cities where sirens scream constantly as COVID-19 patients are taken to already crowded hospitals. But leaving the city poses risks not only to families in transit, but also to those living along their route.

Five days after New York issued a stay at home order, Instagram influencer and mom Naomi Davis packed her five kids, husband, and a stockpile of supplies into a rented RV and drove out of New York City. Davis wrote on Instagram that they were seeking a change of scenery and more space. Arielle Charnas, the blogger behind Something Navy, posted on Instagram that she tested positive for the coronavirus—and just days later when she said she was feeling better, shared photos leaving New York City with her kids and husband in tow for the Hamptons (blatantly ignoring self-isolation protocol for those with presumed or confirmed cases of the virus).

Not only are influencers publically flouting rules put into effect to save lives, but they're setting a bad example for their hundreds of thousands of followers. And it's not just those in New York who pose a risk to smaller communities. Places such as Sun Valley in Idaho, the Outer Banks in North Carolina, and towns in the Montana Rocky Mountains also report an influx of long-term travelers during the coronavirus pandemic.

Many of the influencers and bloggers ended their posts (and subsequent apology posts) with the sentiment that they were just doing what they thought was best for their family. But what might seem best for one family—in this case⁣, leaving a densely populated city—is not best for any number of families elsewhere in the country.

highway information display says, "STOP THE SPREAD SAVE LIVES" on a mostly empty Interstate
Credit: Ira L. Black/Corbis via Getty Images

Why Ignoring Stay at Home Orders is Dangerous

Cliched but true, it's not all about the destination, it's about the journey. Amanda Castel, M.D., professor of epidemiology at the George Washington University Milken Institute School of Public Health, explains, "Families should also consider how they will get from one place to another, who will they have to interact with along the way or when they get there."

Even if a family stocked up on enough food to last an entire drive, any gas fill-up, bathroom break, or other pit stop could spread disease.

Keri Althoff, Ph.D., associate professor in the Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health’s department of epidemiology laid down the bottom line, saying shelter in place or stay at home orders mean besides leaving for essential trips such as medical visits or groceries "you should be at home, not leaving your home."

What to Consider Before Choosing to Leave

It's important to remember that "not all people are symptomatic with coronavirus infection, and kids are likely to have mild symptoms," says Dr. Althoff. That means you and your family could feel and appear healthy and still transmit the virus.

So even if you're not tempted to get an RV or live out of a van to weather the worst of the virus' peak in your city, going to a holiday rental or a family cabin is questionable too. Yes, we're all craving the space to breathe without worry about passing neighbors on narrow sidewalks, but think about the local hospitals near your cabin. Do they have enough beds to accommodate you and your family if you fall sick? Or if you spread the disease to your new neighbors?

"Many rural health systems are limited in terms of testing capacity, the numbers of providers available, the numbers of hospital beds, and access to intensive care units or tertiary level care," says Dr. Castel. "If there were to be an outbreak in these areas, the systems could easily and rapidly be overwhelmed."

While everyone living in urban centers right now—including many of the staff here at Parents—understand the fear of seeing the number of confirmed cases rise and the longing for more space for a family to spread out, we have to face the facts. It's time to settle in and stay put when that is possible. If we leave now, we could do irreparable damage. If we leave now, we could cause the deaths of total strangers or even loved ones.

"If a family unknowingly brings coronavirus with them to a rural setting, they can boost the epidemic in their new setting," explains Dr. Althoff. "To reduce the number of people becoming infected right now as the epidemic is surging in the U.S., it is best to stay at home."

Reasons Families May Need to Leave Home

However, there are circumstances that don't allow for families to shelter safely in place, such as domestic violence or income instability. If you are in an unsafe housing situation, you can contact the National Domestic Violence Hotline for help planning for alternate housing during this time. For those worried about paying rent, the Department of Housing and Urban Development has temporarily suspended “all foreclosures and evictions” until the end of April. Many cities and states have enforced further protections during the coronavirus crisis, including New York, California, and Minnesota. Also, families of essential workers (doctors, nurses, hospital staff, grocery store workers, and many others) can't necessarily keep all their loved ones together at home if the size or layout of their home does not allow for separate space and social distancing. But if you are in a position to stay in place, please stay home—even when it gets scary.

But Dr. Althoff has reassuring advice for worried families: "You can be safe in your home in a densely populated city if you are following your local officials' guidance and orders, washing your hands, and limiting your trips out of your home."