Older Americans Urged to Continue ‘Distancing’
Now that states are easing restrictions put in place by the coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) outbreak, the message to older adults and people with chronic underlying health conditions has not changed: Stay home whenever possible, and practice social distancing.
Adults 65 years old and older and people with chronic illnesses have been hit hard by COVID-19, which is why health experts encourage this population to avoid close contact with other people.
Statistics from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) show 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the United States have been adults ages 65 and older. What’s more, 31 percent to 59 percent of adults 65 to 84 years old required hospitalization.
Chronic health conditions associated with seniors, such as kidney disease, lung disease, heart disease, and diabetes, increase the COVID-19 risk for older adults. But, people under 65 who have a compromised immune system and health conditions, such as obesity, cancer, and asthma, are also more susceptible to developing COVID-19.
What is Social Distancing?
Social distancing also referred to as “physical distancing,” means to keep at least six feet away (about two arms’ length) from another person.
The CDC says social distancing is the best way to reduce the spread of COVID-19 since the virus is transmitted from person to person. Droplets from the mouth or nose of an infected person travel into the air and land in the mouths or noses of people nearby, according to the CDC.
To prevent person-to-person transmission of the virus, government officials issued stay-at-home orders and directed people to wear face masks when out in public.
Social distancing and other protective measures, however, separated many older adults from their family members and close friends. Since states are reopening from the COVID-19 shutdown, older adults may want to visit or receive visitors. But, health experts caution against getting too close too soon.
Tips to Avoid Exposure to COVID-19
Besides social distancing, the CDC has other tips for older adults to help reduce their risk for a COVID-19 infection as states reopen:
Do not leave home if you feel sick.
- Wear a face mask when going out in public. The CDC stresses that a face covering is not a substitute for social distancing.
- If you do not have a face mask and are around others, cover your mouth and nose with a tissue, or use the inside of your elbow, when you cough or sneeze. Throw used tissues in the trash. Immediately wash your hands with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
- If possible, use online services to order groceries, refill prescriptions, or for banking, whenever possible.
- Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily, such as doorknobs, light switches, handles, countertops, sinks, faucets, and phones.
It’s common for older adults who have avoided close contact with people to want a hug. Dr. William Li, president and founder of the Angiogenesis Foundation who is also researching COVID-19, said hugging for older adults “should mostly be off the table,” at least until there is a COVID-19 vaccine.
However, some health experts suggest older adults can get a brief hug around the waist from young grandchildren, or from other adults if both adults wear a face mask and turn their heads in the opposite direction from each other.
Physical Distancing From Someone Who Is Sick
While social distancing is usually thought of as something that is done outside, seniors are urged to avoid close contact with people in their homes who are sick with COVID-19.
For seniors who care for their spouses or someone else who is ill, the CDC recommends taking precautions, such as:
- Wear a face mask and gloves
- Wash your hands frequently
- Avoid sharing dishes, cups, silverware, and other personal items with the person who is sick
- Using disinfectant cleaners or wipes to clean doors knobs, phones, counters, and other frequently used surfaces
- Make sure there is good airflow in shared spaces to remove respiratory droplet from the air
- Avoid having unnecessary visitors
If at all possible, have the person who is sick use a separate bedroom and bathroom.
Focus Continues on Older Adults
Dr. Deborah L. Birx, the White House Coronavirus Task Force coordinator, said the medical profession has learned many lessons about the coronavirus, including the importance of taking care of yourself and keeping chronic illnesses, like hypertension or diabetes, under control.
Significant concerns remain, though, for older adults and people with pre-existing health conditions because they have a more serious outcome from the coronavirus. Birx advises both groups to protect themselves by staying at home or wearing a face mask in public.
In addition to taking these steps, the CDC stresses the importance of social distancing, which it calls “one of the best tools we have” to avoid exposure to the coronavirus disease.