Eight in 10 reported deaths linked to COVID-19 in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention.
Older adults are often more vulnerable to severe illness associated with respiratory infection, whether due to underlying health conditions or age-related changes in immune response. If you are a caregiver, or have an older relative who lives at home - or are an older adult yourself - the most important thing you can do is prevent COVID-19 from entering your home.
While our community is currently taking steps to reopen after two months of staying at home, it's important that we proceed with caution. Here are some guidelines to assure that we don't spread the disease to older adults:
• Wear a face mask and maintain distance. Most COVID-19 infections begin in the respiratory system. Droplets can easily infect others nearby. Help prevent spreading the virus by wearing a face mask. And while we may want to be physically close to our loved ones, staying at least 6 feet apart could reduce their chance of getting sick.
• Disinfect regularly. Clean commonly touched items and surfaces in your home that could contain harmful bacteria and viruses. Then disinfect them using an Environmental Protection Agency (EPA)-registered disinfectant, a 70% alcohol solution or bleach diluted in water (4 teaspoons per quart of water).
• Minimize interactions with children. Children could have milder symptoms of the virus than adults, and they might not even seem to be sick. Limit the time your child spends with older relatives. For the time being, family members who would typically visit in person should continue to use technology to keep in touch.
• Limit nonessential errands and trips. COVID-19 spreads primarily through person-to-person encounters. While we all might be ready to get out of the house, staying home reduces your risk of contracting the virus from others and passing it along. Older family members should continue to stay home as much as possible.
• Keep washing your hands. Don't stop the routine! Scrub with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Wash your hands as often as possible, especially before caring for an older relative.
• Ventilate the house. Open a window and keep fresh air flowing.
If you or a member of the household does get sick, you'll need to take extra steps to keep older family members safe. Keep other family members healthy by confining the sick person to one specific room and bathroom. Older relatives should stay out of those rooms.
Remember the virus that causes COVID-19 is still here. And while it seems to spread more quickly from symptomatic patients, it can also be spread from asymptomatic people. As a result, the same precautions we have been practicing, like hand washing, social distancing and using a facemask, are still recommended, especially when interacting with an older person.
Dr. Robyn Odzark is a board-certified family medicine physician who sees patients at Beaufort Memorial Bluffton Primary Care in Westbury Park.