Special thank to my friends over at the Washington Post!
- The government announced 1.9 million high-speed coronavirus tests would start to be available this week in hardest hit states. Priority of testing would go to health care workers, first responders and people over 65 exhibiting cough, fever or other respiratory symptoms.
- The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recommended Sunday that for the next eight weeks there be no mass gatherings of more than 50 people to combat the spread of coronavirus. The guidelines define mass gatherings as “conferences, festivals, parades, concerts, sporting events, weddings.”
- The U.S. Senate is expected to vote early this week on a bill passed by the House of Representatives Saturday to provide help to workers affected by the coronavirus outbreak, as well as to provide free testing and increase funding to programs that help feed older adults.
- In an attempt to protect the U.S. economy from the impact of the coronavirus outbreak, the Federal Reserve Sunday dropped interest rates to 0 percent.
- President Donald Trump has declared the coronavirus a national emergency. The designation frees up to $50 billion in funding that state and local governments can use to fight the spread of the disease.
What can older adults do to reduce their risk of illness?
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has issued new guidance for older adults and people who have chronic medical conditions, such as heart disease, diabetes and lung disease. This population is at increased risk for serious illness from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. Here’s what the agency recommends:
Avoid crowds, rethink daily activities
Many states, cities and communities have taken social distancing guidance from the CDC seriously and closed schools, set limits on the number of people who may gather in one place and asked businesses to send employees home to telework.
Churches, restaurants, bars, gyms, movie theaters and more also have made decisions to close to keep crowds from spreading COVID-19.
The CDC also has advised that nursing homes and long-term care facilities ban outside visitors, guidance that comes as a long-term care facility in Washington battles a COVID-19 outbreak that has resulted in multiple deaths.
Starting at age 60, there’s an increased risk of death from the coronavirus, “and the risk increases with age,” Nancy Messonnier, an internist and director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. said in AARP’s recent Coronavirus Information Tele-Town Hall.
The highest risk of severe illness from the coronavirus is in people 80 and older, “and especially in people who are older and have serious chronic medical conditions like heart disease, diabetes and lung disease,” Messonnier added.
Avoiding sick people and washing your hands often are two preventive strategies public health experts have been pushing to help slow the spread of COVID-19.
Stock up on supplies
Older Americans and adults who take routine medications should make sure they have “adequate supplies” on hand – enough medication to last two weeks to a month, said Messonnier.
It’s also important to stock up on over-the-counter medications to treat fever, cough and other symptoms, as well as tissues and other common medical supplies.
Major health insurers have pledged to relax prescription refill limits on “maintenance medications” in the wake of the coronavirus outbreak. Prescription refill limits are also being waived for Medicare Advantage and Part D beneficiaries.
If you run into difficulty stocking up on your prescriptions at the pharmacy, consider refilling your medications with a mail-order service, the CDC says. You can also ask your physician to switch your prescription from a 30-day supply to a 90-day supply to make sure you have enough medication to get through a potential COVID-19 outbreak in your community.
And make sure you have enough food in the house in case you have to stay home for an extended period of time.
“I think we’re now talking about people having a two-week supply,” said Irwin Redlener, a pediatrician and director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University, referencing the quarantine timelines health officials have so far implemented for the coronavirus.
What’s the best way to protect myself?
Limit exposure. That’s the best way to prevent the spread of COVID-19. This means avoiding destinations that have reported spread of the virus, and thinking twice “before you expose yourself to someone who is showing symptoms,” Messonnier said.
Health officials also advise taking everyday steps that can prevent the spread of respiratory viruses. Wash your hands often with soap and water (scrub for at least 20 seconds), and use alcohol-based hand sanitizer when soap is not an option. Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands, and cover your coughs and sneezes.
“This is the other side of not spreading the disease, which is not catching it,” Messonnier said.
What about travel?
The government has banned travelers from 30 countries to the U.S., as of Monday including Ireland and the United Kingdom, and many countries with outbreaks are doing the same, barring Americans as well as other foreign nationals.
The CDC advises against all non-essential travel, domestic or foreign. And, “If you have heart disease, diabetes, lung disease, it is not a great idea for you to get on any kind of flight,” Messonnier said.
The CDC, U.S. State Department and World Health Organization (WHO) websites have up-to-date travel information.
How is the coronavirus spreading?
Most of what experts know is largely based on what is known about similar coronaviruses. When person-to-person transmission occurred with Middle Eastern respiratory syndrome coronavirus (MERS-CoV) and severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus (SARS-CoV), respiratory droplets from coughs and sneezes from an infected person were the likely culprit, according to the CDC. Those droplets can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people or be inhaled into the lungs.
It may be possible to get COVID-19 by touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes, “but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads,” the CDC says.
Health officials are still working to better understand how easily the virus is spread from person to person. It may be possible for an infected person to spread the virus before exhibiting symptoms. However, people are thought to be most contagious when they are sick with the symptoms of the virus, the CDC says.
What are the symptoms?
Patients with COVID-19 have reported symptoms similar to other respiratory illnesses, including mild to severe symptoms of fever, cough and shortness of breath that typically begin two to 14 days after exposure, the CDC reports. Many patients with severe complications from the virus develop pneumonia.
The CDC is asking those with symptoms to call their health care provider or local health department for advice before seeking care to avoid spreading germs to others.
However, if you develop emergency warning signs — pain or pressure in the chest, disorientation or confusion, a blue tint in your face or lips, or difficulty breathing or shortness of breath — get medical attention immediately, health officials warn.
If your doctor suspects COVID-19 and orders a test, Medicare will cover the cost. And several major health insurers have committed to waiving fees for COVID-19 testing and treatment.Q6
The CDC also has tips for what to do if you become infected with COVID-19.
How is it treated?
There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19 at this time, just relief from symptoms. However, a clinical trial is underway to test the safety and efficacy of the drug remdesivir as a potential treatment in adults with COVID-19.
What’s the deal with a vaccine?
Scientists at the National Institutes of Health (NIH) and elsewhere have been working on developing a vaccine for COVID-19 since Chinese health authorities made the genetic sequence of the virus available. But a vaccine is likely a year away, at minimum, from being available to the public.
Why does it take so long?
A vaccine will need to be tested in months long clinical trials to determine its safety and effectiveness in people, explained Anthony Fauci, an immunologist and director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID), part of the NIH. If the vaccine proves safe and effective in the trials and is rushed through regulatory processes, it will still need to be produced for the masses, which will likely add several more months to the timeline.
Will a flu shot provide protection?
There is no evidence that the flu shot or the pneumococcal vaccination will provide any protection from the coronavirus, Messonnier said. Both, however, will increase your chances of staying healthy. And it’s important to keep in mind that, like COVID-19, the flu can be deadly. The CDC estimates that the flu was responsible for 34,200 deaths in the 2018-19 season.
How can I take care of a sick friend?
Health officials stress that it’s important to take care of sick friends and neighbors in the community — and there’s a way to do so safely. If you are taking food to a neighbor, consider leaving it at the door. Since COVID-19 is passed by respiratory droplets, this will eliminate the chance of the virus spreading.
If you are visiting with someone who has COVID-19, keep a safe distance. Wash your hands often — especially when you leave — and remind the person who is sick to wear a face mask. If appropriate precautions are followed, “you’re perfectly safe to be in the environment with them,” Messonnier said.
What about those face masks?
Surgical masks offer some level of protection, but only when worn properly. Experts recommend a snug-fitting N95 respirator, which blocks large-particle droplets and most small particles that are transmitted by coughs and sneezes, according to the Food and Drug Administration (FDA). These masks are usually available at most drugstores and home-improvement outlets.
That said, there is no need for them among the general public in the U.S. at this time, Messonnier said. And depleting supplies now will only make preventive efforts more complicated for health care workers and sick individuals if the virus starts spreading in communities.
What, exactly, is the coronavirus?
Coronaviruses, named for their crownlike shape, are a large family of viruses that are common in many species of animals. Several coronaviruses can infect people, according to the CDC. These strains mostly cause cold-like symptoms but can sometimes progress to more complicated lower respiratory tract illnesses, such as pneumonia or bronchitis.
On rare occasion, animal coronaviruses can evolve and spread among humans, as seen with MERS and SARS. The virus at the center of the latest outbreak is being referred to as a novel (new) coronavirus, since it’s something that health officials have not seen before.
To date, COVID-19, the illness caused by the new coronavirus, has sickened more than 113,000 people and killed more than 4,000 (mostly in China). And the numbers continue to climb.
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