People at Higher Risk for Serious Illness from COVID-19

The spread of the new coronavirus, COVID-19, has sown fear and anxiety. While this in an epidemic we are taking very seriously and the virus can be deadly, the vast majority of those infected so far have only mild symptoms and make full recoveries. It is important to know the facts and not exaggerate the risks. The most important thing we can do as a community is prevention and to protect those who are at higher risk if they were to contract COVID-19.

Early information out of China, where COVID-19 first started, shows that some people are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness. This includes older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions, including heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease.

A large study of 44,672 coronavirus cases confirmed in China showed that 81% of cases were mild, 14% were severe and 5% were critical. The number of mild cases is likely much higher because people with mild cases may not show any symptoms and not seek medical care but still transmit the virus. The number of mild cases, though, creates its own complications for curbing the virus’s spread. Those with mild or no symptoms may not know they have contracted the virus, or may pass it off as a seasonal cold. They may then continue in their daily lives — traveling, kissing, coming into close contact with others — and spread the virus without anyone knowing. “In this manner, a virus that poses a low health threat on the individual level can pose a high risk on the population level,” a group of five scientists wrote in the New England Journal of Medicine. (As reported 2/27/2020 in the New York Times.)

For this reason, it is especially important that people stay home when they show mild symptoms, which are nearly indistinguishable from the common cold or seasonal flu. Most severe cases of COVID-19 affect older adults and people who have serious chronic medical conditions. If COVID-19 spreads to Malheur County, it is the responsibility of everyone to limit contact, wash hands frequently, and prevent the spread to those who are most vulnerable to a severe or critical case.  

If you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 because of your age or because you have a serious long-term health problem, it is extra important for you to take actions to reduce your risk of getting sick with the disease. Follow the recommendations from the CDC listed below.

If you are at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, you should:

  • Stock up on supplies.
    • Contact your healthcare provider to ask about obtaining extra necessary medications to have on hand in case there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in your community and you need to stay home for a prolonged period of time.
    • If you cannot get extra medications, consider using mail-order for medications.
    • Be sure you have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (tissues, etc.) to treat fever and other symptoms. Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home.
    • Have enough household items and groceries on hand so that you will be prepared to stay at home for a period of time.
  • Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
    • Avoid close contact with people who are sick
    • Take everyday preventive actions
    • Clean your hands often
    • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a public place.
    • If soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol.
    • To the extent possible, avoid touching high-touch surfaces in public places – elevator buttons, door handles, handrails, handshaking with people, etc. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or finger if you must touch something.
    • Wash your hands after touching surfaces in public places.
    • Avoid touching your face, nose, eyes, etc.
    • Clean and disinfect your home to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces (for example: tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles, desks, toilets, faucets, sinks & cell phones)
    • Avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. Your risk of exposure to respiratory viruses like COVID-19 may increase in crowded, closed-in settings with little air circulation if there are people in the crowd who are sick.
    • Avoid all non-essential travel including plane trips, and especially avoid embarking on cruise ships.
  • If COVID-19 is spreading in your community, take extra measures to put distance between yourself and other people to further reduce your risk of being exposed to this new virus.
    • Stay home as much as possible.
    • Consider ways of getting food brought to your house through family, social, or commercial networks

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