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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 still don't know about COVID-19. But a few things have become pretty clear over time: 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 cancer, diabetes, Down syndrome, lung disease, heart conditions, sickle cell disease, obesity or a weakened immune system.
  • Smokers.
  • Pregnant women.

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

What does that mean for you?

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

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching surfaces in public.
  • Avoid interaction with sick people.
  • Try not to touch your face (germs can be transmitted from your hand to your eyes, nose and mouth).
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine as soon as you're eligible.

These are the same precautions you should take to avoid catching any infectious disease. But COVID-19 seems more contagious than, say, the flu, and causes more serious illness than the flu in some people. So there are extra steps everyone should take to lessen the risk for infection. For instance:

  • Stay home as much as possible.
  • Limit interaction with people as much as possible.
  • Keep a distance of at least 6 feet from other people in public.
  • Wear a face mask in public.
  • Clean frequently touched surfaces, such as doorknobs, tables, light switches and faucets.
  • Avoid sharing personal items with others in your household.

In addition to those steps, people at higher risk should try to:

Cancel travel plans. Especially avoid all cruise travel and nonessential air travel.

Separate yourself. If possible, set aside a protected space in your house just for you, away from healthy family members.

Plan ahead. While you're still well, gather the phone numbers of your doctor, pharmacy and insurance provider in one place. Have enough medical supplies, household items and groceries on hand so you will be prepared to stay at home for several weeks if needed. 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.

Be smart about meds. If you can't get to the pharmacy, see if you can get your prescriptions delivered. Or get extra refills so you don't have to leave the house.

Create a safety net. If you live alone, get contact information for your neighbors, friends and colleagues in case you need help.

Give telemedicine a try. Keep up with routine medical visits via Skype, FaceTime or a telemedicine service rather than in person.

Be kind to yourself

Social distancing and worrying about your health can be super-stressful. To take good care of your mental health, remember these coping techniques:

  • Take breaks from watching, reading or listening to the news and social media.
  • Take deep breaths and stretch.
  • Eat healthy, well-balanced meals.
  • Exercise regularly.
  • Stay connected to important people in your life through the phone, your computer or social media.
  • Talk with friends and family about how you're feeling.
  • Call your healthcare provider if the stress seems to be overwhelming.

Reviewed 4/14/2021

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