As conversations about getting life back on track continue to occur, we should remember that the threat of SARS-CoV-2 and COVID-19 still exists, especially for high-risk groups.
According to the most recent data available, risk for serious cases, severe illness and death increases over age 65. In serious cases, symptoms progress to pneumonia and other life-threatening respiratory conditions. Severe illnesses often require hospitalization. Eight out of 10 COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have been adults age 65 and older.
People with certain medical conditions, such as moderate to severe asthma, chronic lung disease or diabetes are also at increased risk for severe illness and complications related to COVID-19. Risk increases if existing conditions are not being managed well.
“It’s more important than ever for LIUNA members and their loved ones to stay healthy and keep chronic conditions under control,” says LIUNA General Secretary-Treasurer and LHSFNA Labor Co-Chairman Armand E. Sabitoni. “Following general precautions and specific practices based on your condition not only reduces your risk, it also reduces the load on our healthcare system and its limited resources.”
Precautions for Everyone with a Pre-Existing Condition
For people with chronic conditions, staying healthy is usually done through a combination of lifestyle practices and medications or other medical interventions. In addition to following general precautions, take these actions to safeguard your health and reduce your risk of complications from COVID-19.
Aim to maintain at least a two-week supply of daily medications at all times. If you haven’t done so already, talk to your healthcare provider about having an emergency supply of prescription medications. If available through your insurance, consider enrolling in a prescription mail-order program to cut down on trips to the pharmacy.
Stay in contact with your doctor
Call your healthcare provider if you have specific concerns about COVID-19 and your underlying condition. Find out which checkups and treatments can be done without face-to-face contact, such as through a telehealth video call or a doctor’s office nurse line.
Develop a care plan
If you don’t have one already, create a care plan in the event you do fall ill, whether due to COVID-19 or something else. Following a care plan can reduce hospitalizations, improve condition management and result in a better quality of life. Complete your care plan with the help of your doctor and a loved one. Your plan should include the following:
- What: Health conditions, medications, lifestyle practices, other information recommended by medical care team
- Who: Healthcare providers and emergency contact names and phone numbers
- When: End-of-life care options, such as advance directives
Tips and Information for Specific Chronic Conditions
Chronic lung disease
Includes chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, emphysema, chronic bronchitis, cystic fibrosis and pulmonary fibrosis. Higher risk is due to these conditions flaring up during COVID-19 infection. Protect yourself by avoiding triggers that may worsen symptoms, such as pollen or dust.
Moderate to severe asthma
SARS-COV-2 affects the respiratory tract, leading to higher risk for an asthma attack or progression to pneumonia or other serious illness. To protect yourself, be comfortable using different types of prescribed inhalers and avoid triggers like outdoor air pollution or tobacco smoke. If possible, have another household member do routine cleaning and disinfecting to minimize exposure to potential chemical triggers.
People with diabetes (whether type 1, type 2 or gestational) whose blood sugar levels are outside of the normal range are at higher risk for diabetes-related health problems, such as heart disease, kidney disease and nerve damage. All of these conditions make it harder to recover from COVID-19. Reduce your risk by becoming more vigilant at testing blood sugar levels and taking appropriate action to control it, whether through insulin or lifestyle measures.
Serious heart conditions
Includes heart failure, coronary artery disease and pulmonary heart disease. For people who have serious heart conditions, COVID-19 puts additional stress on an already overworked cardiovascular system. Hypertension is also common among this group. Follow your healthcare provider’s guidance to manage and control your blood pressure.
Chronic kidney disease being treated with dialysis
People on dialysis to manage chronic kidney disease are at increased risk because, according to the CDC, “they are more prone to infection due to their weakened immune systems; treatments and procedures to manage kidney failure; and coexisting conditions such as diabetes.”
Anti-inflammatories (e.g., ibuprofen) are prescribed to alleviate COVID-19 symptoms. These medications cause strain on the liver, especially for people with pre-existing liver problems, such as cirrhosis, where the liver is already strained.
Symptoms and Severity of COVID-19
Mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 can typically be managed at home, while staying in contact with your healthcare provider. Symptoms for mild to moderate cases include fever, cough and shortness of breath. If these symptoms worsen, hospitalization may be needed.
Contact your healthcare provider immediately if you have trouble breathing. Other warning signs that require immediate medical attention include persistent pain or pressure in the chest, confusion or sluggishness and bluish lips or face.
Defined as having a BMI of 40 or higher, severe obesity brings increased risk for breathing problems like acute respiratory syndrome distress, a condition that prevents enough oxygen from getting into the lungs and the blood. This condition is a complication of COVID-19 and impacts a medical professional’s ability to provide respiratory support. People living with severe obesity may also have chronic conditions such as diabetes that increase risk for severe illness.
People may be immunocompromised from cancer treatment, bone marrow or organ transplants, immune deficiencies, poorly controlled HIV or AIDS and prolonged use of corticosteroids and other medications. Having a weakened immune system reduces the body’s ability to fight COVID-19. Advocate for yourself by asking questions and raising concerns to your healthcare provider.
Look out for loved ones who fall into these high-risk groups and take care of yourself if you are at increased risk. Don’t be afraid to ask for help; we’re all in this together.
[Emily Smith is the Fund’s Health Promotion Manager.]