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COVID-19: Are you at high risk for serious complications?

An older woman sitting on a couch and leaning on a cane.

There's a lot we don't know about the coronavirus and COVID-19, the disease caused by it. But there are a few things that seem pretty clear: For instance, some people are more at risk for serious illness from COVID-19 than others.

Those at higher risk include:

• Older adults, with risk increasing by age.
• People with certain underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, lung disease, heart conditions, sickle cell disease, obesity or a weakened immune system.

You can find a full of list of health conditions that increase your risk from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

If you're in one of these higher-risk categories, what can you do to protect yourself? Start with the basics:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching surfaces in public.
  • Try not to touch your face (germs can be transmitted from your hand to your eyes, nose and mouth).

These are the same precautions you should take to avoid catching any infectious disease. But COVID-19 seems more contagious than, say, the flu. So there are extra steps you should take to lessen your risk for infection with COVID-19.

Here are some tips from CDC, the American Diabetes Association and others:

  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Keep a distance of at least 6 feet from other people in public.
  • Wear a cloth face mask in public.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, tables, light switches and faucets.
  • Avoid all cruise travel and nonessential air travel.
  • If possible, set aside a protected space in your house just for you, away from healthy family members.
  • Avoid sharing personal items in your household.
  • Make a plan when you're still well. Gather phone numbers of your doctor, pharmacy and insurance provider. Get extra refills on your prescriptions so you don't have to leave the house. Have enough medical supplies, household items and groceries on hand so you will be prepared to stay at home for several weeks.
  • If you can't get to the pharmacy, see if you can get your prescriptions delivered.
  • Do you live alone? Get contact information for your neighbors, friends and colleagues in case you need help.
  • If you have diabetes, keep simple carbs like regular soda, honey, gelatin-based desserts (like Jell-O), hard candies or popsicles at the ready to raise your blood sugar if it gets too low.
  • Have an appointment with your doctor? See if you can visit via Skype or FaceTime rather than in person.

Be kind to yourself

Take care of your mental health too. Trying to stay away from people and worrying about your health can be super-stressful. Consider:

  • Taking breaks from watching, reading or listening to news stories and social media.
  • Taking deep breaths and stretching.
  • Trying to eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Exercising regularly.
  • Staying connected to important people in your life through the phone, your computer and social media.
  • Talking with friends and family about how you're feeling.
  • Calling your healthcare provider if the stress seems to be overwhelming or lasts several days in a row.

Reviewed 9/8/2020

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