March 10, 2020in Doctor Resource

Protecting Older or High-Risk Adults from COVID-19

We really want our seniors and high-risk patients to avoid catching any respiratory illnesses during this outbreak, because a cold, the flu, and COVID-19 can all look the same at first. What looks like a mild cold can actually be COVID-19 and days later turn into a major pneumonia.

In additional to just being over age 60 years, having a Chronic Medical Condition can also put a COVID-19 patient at higher risk for severe lung disease and death. HealthTap’s coronavirus prevention recommendations for the general population apply to everyone, but especially to high-risk people:

Help avoid colds, the flu, or COVID-19 by following some additional best practices:

  • Trains, planes, and cruise ships – postpone trips until the epidemic wanes
  • Avoid public places where you are closer than 6 feet from the next person
    • Wear a face mask if needing to go out and be around other people
  • Concert halls and movie theaters – avoid large gatherings
    • Watch concerts and movies at home instead of going out
  • Schools – kids are either not catching much COVID-19 or not showing bad symptoms from it
    • If you are driving grandchildren to school or after-school activities, wear a well-fitted face mask and keep a safe distance
  • Buying medications, groceries, and personal items – shop online
    • Many companies deliver products straight to your home
    • Call your doctor’s office to get a 3-month order of your chronic medications from a mail-order pharmacy
  • Clinics and hospitals – go only if you must
    • It may be safer to see a doctor on video for any non-emergent issue during this outbreak
    • If the doctor says an in-person exam or tests are needed, then go to the clinic or lab
    • Upon arrival at a doctor’s office, check-in and ask where the safest place is to wait
    • Postpone elective or cosmetic procedures
  • Exercise – go when fewer people are out on the walking track or when the weight room is fairly empty
    • You can wear a face mask when exercising

When New Year’s Day arrived this January 1st, influenza season was peaking in the US, and the new COVID-19 coronavirus began spreading across international borders. By late February, it was spreading locally in communities, just as our flu season began to wind down. In this coronavirus outbreak, our friends and family members over age 60 years, plus those with existing medical conditions, will be the hardest hit. The above recommendations provide additional safety.

Vaccinations: There is little chance for a coronavirus vaccine this year (there’s not enough time), but seniors can protect themselves from the flu and the pneumococcal pneumonia. The goal is to make sure seniors have gotten the two different pneumonia shots plus this season’s flu shot, in hopes of preventing seniors from catching COVID-19 and another lung infection simultaneously or back-to-back, which would be a serious situation.

Medicare’s website says the two separate pneumonia shots are covered if given a year apart, and the flu shot is covered one time each flu season. Ask your doctor if you are unsure whether you’ve gotten these 3 shots. If a shot is needed, check your Medicare coverage for it. When it comes to flu shots, seniors can choose a regular dose shot or a High Dose shot made especially for people 65 years and up.

Persons 19 through 64 years of age who should get one or both pneumonia shots are those with a Chronic Medical Condition such as:

  • chronic heart disease
  • lung disease
  • diabetes
  • liver disease
  • alcoholism
  • cigarette smoking
  • immunodeficiency disorder
  • HIV infection
  • chronic kidney failure
  • nephrotic syndrome
  • leukemia, lymphoma, or Hodgkin disease
  • generalized cancer
  • chemotherapy or radiation therapy
  • organ transplant
  • missing or nonfunctioning spleen
  • sickle cell disease

To read more about what seniors and high-risk persons can do during this outbreak:

Robert Kwok

Robert Kwok

Robert Kwok, MD, Director of Health Informatics at HealthTap, is a board-certified physician who practiced medicine for 27 years. He earned his MD and pediatrics credentials at Baylor College of Medicine. Before HealthTap, he practiced clinical pediatrics in Northern California, most recently with Stanford Medicine.