With the rate of COVID-19 infections surging across the U.S. this summer, older adults have many concerns and questions about how to reduce their risk of getting sick.
In general, the risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19 increases as you get older. Eight of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the U.S. have been among adults aged 65 years and older, according to the Centers for Disease Control.
We asked Dr. Douglas Allen, senior medical director at Blue Shield of California who is responsible for overseeing clinical care delivery to Blue Shield’s members enrolled in Medicare Advantage plans, to give us his insights on COVID-19 and how it is impacting older adults.
As infection rates climb, should I stay at home more?
The short answer is yes. Until this second surge of infections is over, the risk of transmission is much higher. The safest course of action is to only venture out for essential needs.
Older adults and persons with severe underlying medical conditions like hypertension, obesity, heart or lung disease, diabetes or asthma seem to be at higher risk for developing more serious complications if they contract COVID-19. If you fit one or more of these criteria, it is important to exercise greater caution.
Is it safe to go to the grocery store and run errands or should I have my children or neighbors do it for me? Do I need to disinfect my groceries?
Most grocery stores have put in place precautions to protect both patrons and employees from contracting COVID. Precautions include mandatory masks, procedures to assure safe distancing and often the availability of disinfectant stations. If you have underlying medical conditions (outlined above), you can further reduce your risk by shopping early in the morning or whenever stores are less crowded.
There is no evidence of food packaging being associated with the transmission of COVID-19. However, wiping down grocery cart handles with disinfectant prior to shopping is always encouraged.
Wash your hands with warm water and soap for at least 20 seconds upon returning home, and again after you put away your groceries.
When will it be safe to visit my doctor(s) again for routine care and checkups?
Most medical offices that are now seeing patients have put in place safety precautions to dramatically reduce COVID transmission risk. These include temperature checks, requiring face masks, safe distancing and reduced physical contact. It should be safe to resume visits with your doctor, and it is particularly important to continue regular medical care if you are managing a serious chronic condition. If you have safety concerns, call your doctor about their COVID precautions.
Many physicians have begun using telemedicine. Including telephone and video conferences with patients, so, ask your doctor whether this is an option.
Is it safe to get a flu shot this year?
Absolutely. And with the presence of COVID-19, it is even more important that we all do what we can to reduce the spread of influenza.
When will it be safe to visit/socialize with my children/grand children?
This will depend on several factors, including:
- If you are among those at greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 because of age and/or underlying conditions, you should be very cautious about visiting family and loved ones.
- If your family allows children to play with neighbors or friends, that can increase the risk of COVID-19 transmission. Knowing what precautions your family is taking during this second surge will be important in assessing your risk.
- During this surge, the risk of transmission is greater and increases the chance that your family members could be exposed. A more cautious approach would be to wait until this surge is under control before considering contact with people living outside your household.
- If you do decide to visit with children or grandchildren, practice safe distancing and wear a mask. As hard as it might be, refrain from kissing and hugging. Have them do the same, and ensure objects handled during the visit are cleaned afterwards with a disinfectant wipe. Consider seeing them outdoors and make the visit brief.
For more guidance about COVID-19 for older adults, visit the Centers for Disease Control’s website.