You might be surprised to know that before December 2019, the term “COVID-19” did not even exist. Now, just a few months later, we may hear it or say it ourselves many times each day.
This situation—as well as all the information surrounding this virus—can be overwhelming. To help you better understand what’s happening, we’ve put together a list of some of the most common questions older adults have related to COVID-19 (coronavirus) along with answers that can help you.
Read below to find out more about the illness, including when a treatment might be available, how to protect yourself and your loved ones, and more.
What is the coronavirus?
You’ve likely heard COVID-19 referred to in a couple of different ways, like “Coronavirus 2019” or just “coronavirus.” All of these names are referring to the same virus, whose official name is “Novel Coronavirus COVID-19.” Understanding this name may help you understand a bit more about this virus.
Novel: Refers to the fact that the strain of this disease has never been seen in humans before.
Coronavirus: Under a microscope, a coronavirus looks like it is covered with pointed structures that surround it like a corona, or crown. A coronavirus is a common virus type that can infect the upper throat, sinuses or nose.
COVID-19: COVID-19 is the designation that the World Health Organization gave this particular virus when it was identified.
How can older adults reduce their risk of illness?
“Social distancing” means that you should maintain a minimum 6-foot distance from others and limit contact around others in general. This is your best defense against COVID-19. Although it may be extremely difficult, staying away from others is the most effective way to avoid getting sick.
Since you can’t “see” the virus, it could be easy to convince yourself that short trips out of the house won’t hurt anyone. But remember: it’s not about the length of time you are out, it’s about your exposure—in other words, if there is even one infected person in the same location as you, you can be infected with the disease.
What’s the best way to protect myself?
If you’re an older adult, you are considered at higher risk for the coronavirus. To reduce your chance of becoming infected with COVID-19 there are some basic measures you should take:
Maintain physical space between yourself and others of at least 6 feet regardless if you are indoors like in a senior living community, outside taking a short walk or someplace else.
Always keep this in mind: The fewer people you have contact with, the fewer chances you have to get sick.
Wash your hands often with soap and water or with hand sanitizer that has at least a 60% alcohol content, especially after touching surfaces that others may have touched.
The key is consistency. While it may be tempting to bend the rules a bit, these precautions must be taken 100% of the time.
What about travel plans?
The recommendations around travel continue to evolve as the situation with the coronavirus also evolves. So, until the virus is under control, most non-essential travel must be avoided.
This can be difficult to hear if you have family that lives out of state, or if there are important events coming up that you want to be a part of, like a wedding or graduation. If you can’t travel, remind yourself that the situation is temporary and will eventually get better. In the meantime, stay in touch with people far away by phone, email or a videoconferencing resource.
How is the coronavirus spreading?
Researchers and health experts are still trying to understand exactly how the coronavirus spreads. For example, they believe it may be possible to be contagious before symptoms are exhibited, but as of now that is no scientific evidence to prove that. that the CDC believes that people are most contagious once the symptoms present themselves.
Initially it seemed that the coronavirus primarily spread through person-to-person contact. For example, when a person with the virus coughs or sneezes, tiny droplets of saliva or nasal discharge are dispersed into the area where they can land on others and infect them. However, it can also possibly spread if you touch an object that is contaminated with the virus.
To help stop the virus from spreading, the government has set restrictions around things like travel and public gatherings. As of March 24, 2020, most places in the U.S. and other countries have banned large gatherings, whether they happen at a public place like a school or a private setting like a movie theater or restaurant.
What are the symptoms?
In the beginning, COVID-19 may not cause any symptoms. In fact, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), someone can be infected for two days to two weeks before they notice any signs of the illness.
People with COVID-19 commonly experience shortness of breath, a cough that gets worse and a fever that gets worse, too.
According to the CDC, there are also emergency warning signs for COVID-19. If you are experiencing any of these symptoms get medical attention right away:
Pain or pressure in the chest that is persistent
New confusion or inability to arouse
Lips or face have a bluish color
How is it treated?
As of March 24, 2020, there are no treatments approved for COVID-19. Treatments and vaccines are currently being studied and scientists worldwide are working to find a treatment for the illness.
So, if someone has coronavirus, a doctor will offer treatments that help manage any symptoms a person is experiencing while waiting for the virus to run its course.
What’s going on with a vaccine?
On March 11, 2020 Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, told the House Oversight and Reform Committee that developing a vaccine that can prevent the coronavirus will probably take at least a year to 18 months
Why will it take so long?
New vaccines require a significant amount of research, followed by clinical testing—and then they still need to be produced. All these things can cost hundreds of millions of dollars and take months or years. And even if a new vaccine may seem promising, there is no guarantee that it will work.
Will a flu shot provide protection?
Unfortunately, a flu shot cannot protect you against the coronavirus. But keep this in mind: it can help you stay healthier overall. So, although the flu vaccine won’t keep you from getting COVID-19, it will improve your chances of staying healthy and out of the hospital.
How do I take care of a sick friend?
According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), if you are over age 65, you are at higher risk for severe disease, which includes coronavirus. Because of this, you should not provide in-person care to a sick friend from a distance. Offer support in ways that are safe for both of you, such as talking on the phone, or reading the same books or watching the same movies, then discussing them afterwards.
Look for more coronavirus information, articles and helpful checklists coming soon.