By now, you are probably tired of hearing about COVID. I certainly am! There is hope to be had in the form of the vaccine, which has already been given to thousands of people right here in Midland. However, we will likely need to get through a few tough months before our lives start to feel a little more open again. With the colder months upon us, there are even fewer options for people to get out of their homes, and older adults face the worst effects of this. Older adults are more likely to live alone, face isolation and loneliness, and have difficulty getting outside in cold or icy conditions. There can be significant fears, many of them justified, about virus exposure risks\u2014leading to more isolation and very little variety in our days. So, how can we manage this tension between physical safety and mental health? Let\u2019s look at a few options. 1. Update our understanding of virus exposure risks. Most people experience anxiety about encountering the virus, but we have learned a lot in the past year about how to help prevent its spread. For example, I no longer use bleach wipes on all of my groceries, but I definitely have a mask handy every time I leave the house. Some studies have converged on two key factors playing an important role in risk: ventilation and time. Activities in well-ventilated rooms or outdoor settings done in shorter periods, such as a walk with a friend, pose a lower risk than those in closed-in rooms for longer periods, such as a birthday party. With this information, older adults can make educated decisions about how and when to get valuable social time until they can receive a vaccine, if they so choose and are able to. Follow trusted news sources about the disease to continue to be educated. 2. Check in with your loved ones. How are the other people in your life managing the pandemic? Are they also at home much of the time? Have they found creative ways to do fun things, or stay connected? It is more important now than ever to stay connected in whatever form we can, by phone, mail or video. I have learned a lot from others in my life about how to find safe ways to get out of the house. But also remember: If you are invited to an activity, it's okay to decline if you believe the risk is too high. You do not need to feel guilty. 3. Create a list of options. Here is our opportunity to get creative. What are some ways to get out of the house, if only for a few minutes? If you are able to drive or be driven by someone close to you, where could you go? Perhaps you might drive by a sledding hill to see children enjoying themselves. Or observe a patch of snowy woods and look for animal life. Maybe a drive-through or curbside pick-up for a tasty dinner would add some variety. Could you bundle up and walk next door for a ten-minute outside chat with your neighbor? Or play charades outside the window of someone in a care home? I would encourage you to try to get out of the house at least once a week, even if it is a few minutes outside or a short trip somewhere. 4. Consider a group voluntary quarantine. If you have friends or family who are able to quarantine voluntarily, this may be a nice option. Decide together to not interact with others outside your home for seven to 10 days. At the end of that period, you are reasonably safe to get together (as long as everyone follows the rules!). We have used this model in my family to allow occasional in-person visits, and it is very refreshing to interact with people again. 5. Seek out resources for loneliness. Our area has already been looking at the issue of loneliness in older adults, pre-dating the pandemic, and has developed a program called Bridge to Belonging. COVID-19 has challenged some of the services in that program that meet in-person, there are still a variety of options available to cut down on social isolation. If you are interested, please contact one of these resources to learn more. \u2022 211 Northeast Michigan: From any phone, dial 2-1-1, or email email@example.com. \u2022 Senior Services of Midland County: Call (989) 633-3700 or visit www.seniorservicesmidland.org. \u2022 Visit www.midmichigan.org\/mentalhealth. Meghan Dahl, L.M.S.W., is a behavioral health therapist at MidMichigan Medical Center \u2013 Midland.