Coronavirus Disease 2019 (a.k.a. COVID-19) is, as of this writing, considered an outbreak virus with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention monitoring novel illnesses in the U.S. There are numerous concerns with this contagious virus related to its rate of spread and whether older adults are at a heightened risk associated with coronavirus. We hope that this post provides some basic information and links to additional resources that will increase your awareness about the virus and preventive steps you can take right now to protect yourself and others in your family and community.
What is Novel Coronavirus?
A novel coronavirus means that it is a new coronavirus that had not been previously identified. This strain is different than coronaviruses that are commonly transmitted between humans. Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses which often infect animals and, in some cases, people. However it is rare that a coronavirus “jumps” from animals to humans, but this is indeed what is suspected to have occurred with this virus strain. It still may be too soon to say that this is affirmatively the case with COVID-19. Symptoms are similar to that of a mild or severe respiratory illness (sometimes called a “flu”) in that it may include fever, cough, or shortness of breath.
How is this Coronavirus (COVID-19) Spread?
In the case of COVID-19, spread of the infection is passed from person-to-person. Some viruses cannot pass from one person to another in a sustainable way, while others (like measles) are highly contagious. COVID-19 appears to spread easily and is currently showing an ability to sustain its spread. The virus is likely spread from one person who is within about 6 feet of an infected person who coughs or sneezes. However, an infection may also be acquired from touching an infected surface or object and then touching your mouth, nose, or possibly your eyes. Since there is no certainty as to how COVID-19 spreads, preventive measures should be taken to lower your risk.
How do I Limit My Risk for Infection?
The good news is that you can reduce your risk of contracting the virus by following similar activities that prevent the spread of colds and respiratory flu.
- Cough or sneeze into a tissue and immediately throw the tissue away. If needed, sneeze or cough into your arm/crook of your elbow. This helps prevent the virus droplets from getting into the air. If you have used your clothing to sneeze or cough, take precautions to avoid touching areas where droplets may be found. Washing clothes afterward is recommended. Sneezing or coughing into the palm of your hand enhances the risk of spread.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. Alcohol-based sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol can be used if soap and water is not available. However, washing your hands will be most effective. Here is a link to show you more about hand washing techniques.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
You may be tempted to use a face mask to help protect you from acquiring the virus. However, the CDC is requesting that you do not use them for prevention as it may create a shortage for healthcare providers and healthcare settings that need them. Face masks should be used by those who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the virus to others.
If you are sick or have symptoms as described above do the following to help prevent the spread of the virus:
- Stay home!
- Clean and disinfect surfaces and objects you touch frequently.
Are Older Adults at Increased Risk
As of this writing the CDC and Administration for Community Living report that older adults and individuals with disabilities are not at an advanced level of risk compared to the rest of the population. However, individuals who have a compromised health status should take precautions seriously to help reduce their potential risks related to the COVID-19.
Disclaimer Note: Recommendations and guidance provided in this article were guided by CDC and ACL publications. Links have been made available for your use. Link to what you need to know about COVID-19 and link to What to do if you are sick with COVID-19.