Coronavirus: Safety Tips for Seniors
Table of Contents:
- What is Coronavirus?
- Clean Hands with Soap and Water
- Disinfect High-Touch Objects and Surfaces
- Practice Respiratory Hygiene
- Safety First
On February 25th, the Center for Disease Control (CDC) warned the American public that the worst of the ongoing coronavirus outbreak is still to come. Citizens should brace for the distinct possibility that the disease will begin to spread throughout the nation and potentially reach pandemic status. Dr. Nancy Messonier, Director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, made a particularly grave pronouncement. “It’s not so much a question of if this will happen,” she said, “but a question of when this will happen.”
The Department of Health and Human Services has expressed the need for additional ventilators as well as 300 million surgical masks. President Trump, for his part, has opted for a more optimistic tone. Though his administration has made an emergency request for $2.5 billion to address the outbreak, the President recently described the country as, “in good shape.”
What is Coronavirus?
A better question would be, “what is a coronavirus?”
The term refers to an entire family of illnesses that can infect both birds and mammals. Most have relatively mild respiratory effects for humans. Rarer coronaviruses, however, can prove dangerous and even deadly. Severe acute respiratory syndrome (SARS) and Middle Eastern Respiratory Syndrome (MERS) are two recent examples of lethal, headline-making coronaviruses.
The current outbreak has seen an unfamiliar coronavirus strain (COVID-19) emerge. It has, as of February 25th, infected more than 80,000 and killed nearly 3,000. Originating in China’s Wuhan province, it has now sickened individuals in dozens of countries.
Though COVID-19 is still confounding public health officials — and containment may be impossible — reducing your exposure risk is not just possible, but (for now) relatively easy. The CDC and World Health Organization (WHO) encourage citizens to follow many of the same protocol they would follow during any cold and flu season.
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Clean Hands with Soap and Water
Even if your hands are not visibly dirty, regular washing with hot soap and water is essential for discouraging the spread of disease. WHO also suggests frequent cleanings with alcohol-based (at least 60%) hand sanitizers. This is especially vital after periods of potential contamination, which include:
- After coughing or sneezing.
- After handling animals or animal waste.
- After using the bathroom.
- After contact with a sick person.
- Before preparing food or eating.
- Whenever your hands are visibly dirty.
Professor John Lednicky, a virologist from the University of Florida, reiterates the importance of both frequent hand washing and proper washing technique. “Coronaviruses,” he writes, “can stay ‘viable’ (infectious) on some environmental surfaces for up to a week.” He advises particular caution around “high touch” surfaces like doorknobs. It is also generally advisable to avoid touching your eyes, mouth, and nose more than is absolutely necessary.
Disinfect High-Touch Objects and Surfaces
The same principle applies to the objects and surfaces you encounter on a daily basis. With regular cleaning and disinfecting, you can minimize your risk of exposure to viruses like COVID-19. If you’re employed, do the same for any objects and surfaces you interact with during the workday. Take particular care if your work involves animals, food, or sick individuals.
Practice Respiratory Hygiene
Coronaviruses are easily transmitted through the inhalable droplets we expel by coughing or sneezing. To limit these risks, WHO asks that individuals practice good respiratory hygiene and, where possible, insist that others do the same. That means taking care to cover your mouth and nose when coughing or sneezing, washing your hands after doing either, and disposing of used tissues immediately. The organization also suggests maintaining a distance of at least 3 feet between yourself and anyone who appears symptomatic. While the CDC encourages healthcare workers and anyone with respiratory symptoms to wear a surgical mask in public, they do not advise others to do the same.
As with more common viruses, senior citizens are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. Early data from China found that the median age of the first 17 victims was 75 and the New England Journal of Medicine reports that the median age for the first 425 infected individuals was 59.
Why are seniors at greater risk of exposure and death? Vineet Menachery, an immunologist at the University of Texas Medical Branch, suggests it has to do with both underlying conditions (more common in seniors) and the changes our immune response systems undergo as we age. Speaking to AARP, Menachery remarks, “age and your condition in life will really drive your susceptibility.” While turning 65 does not guarantee you’ll contract COVID-19, reaching retirement age should inspire you to take preventative measures like those mentioned above more seriously.
If you are experiencing respiratory symptoms, consult a healthcare professional immediately. Make sure to call ahead and make it clear that you believe you may have contracted COVID-19. This will not only help them begin developing a treatment plan, but will ensure they do everything possible to discourage additional exposure.