It is more critical than ever to seek to understand what the Coronavirus is, what the symptoms are, and how to avoid becoming infected during a time where the Pandemic is spreading more rapidly than ever. With the following article, Medical Guardian has created a holistic guide for older adults and caregivers to self-educate on how to stay healthy during the COVID-19 outbreak.
Understanding the Coronavirus
According to the Center for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC), the Coronavirus is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China. At this time, COVID-19 is currently present across a majority of regions spanning the globe and has over 15K confirmed cases in the United States alone.
When we hear the phrase “person to person” it is directly referencing the spread between people who are within 6 feet of one another through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. Due to this finding, it is critical to avoid closely passing others in public places or to consider practicing social distancing until the outbreak subsides — which consists of foregoring leaving your home during an active outbreak. As symptoms can take days to develop and mild cases often go unnoticed, it is important to always cover your nose and mouth with your elbow or a tissue upon sneezing or coughing — immediately discarding the tissue and washing your hands afterwards — to prevent spreading the virus to others in case you happen to be infected.
It has been stated by The Journal of Hospital Infection that the Coronavirus can also easily spread by coming into contact with infected fluid on high-touch areas. This is important to be aware of as the virus can survive on some surfaces for more than a week — making it essential to avoid public spaces during the outbreak whenever possible and to regularly sanitize frequently utilized items, such as: phones, door handles, faucets, workspaces, etc.
What are the Symptoms of COVID-19
The Coronavirus can lead to severe respiratory tract infections and presents itself through cold or flu-like symptoms, such as: fever, cough, runny nose, and sore throat. These symptoms may take up to 2-14 days to begin to appear after initial exposure and should be monitored closely in case they begin to increase in severity.
If you do in fact begin to experience what is referred to as COVID-19 Emergency Warning Signs — including difficulty breathing, shortness of breath, persistent pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion or inability to arouse, and bluish lips or face — it is paramount that you receive emergency medical attention immediately and alert your healthcare provider of the symptoms.
Who's the Most At-Risk
With both mild and severe cases of the Coronavirus being recorded — it has been found that men, smokers, and seniors are the most susceptible to becoming infected due to the implications of lung damage and chronic medical conditions. This finding makes it imperative for seniors with Chronic Obstructive Pulmonary Disease (COPD) — such as Bronchitis, Emphysema, or other respiratory diseases — take additional precautions, such as avoiding travel or heavily trafficked public spaces, to prevent contact with the Coronavirus.
Protecting Yourself Against the Coronavirus
The following are low-impact prevention methods that can be utilized by people of all ages, especially seniors or those with autoimmune disorders, in order to minimize their risk of becoming infected.
Keep a distance of at least 6 feet from others in every direction while in public
Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth — wash your hands when you do
Cover your mouth and nose with a tissue when you cough or sneeze
Wash your hands frequently — especially after spending time in public
Make sure you are drinking plenty of water and getting enough sleep
Regularly clean and disinfect frequently utilized surfaces and objects
Avoid close contact with people who may be experiencing symptoms
Limit your exposure to public spaces and opt to stay at home
Use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer throughout the day
What Happens If You’re Diagnosed with COVID-19
If you are diagnosed with COVID-19 after exhibiting symptoms or being administered a test, it is critical that you self-quarantine at home and do not leave unless it is to receive medical treatment — as it is important to reduce the virus’ opportunity to continue spreading. This includes not utilizing any form of public transportation (bus, rideshare, etc.), postponing all travel plans, foregoing social gatherings, and completely avoiding close proximity to high-risk individuals, such as seniors or those with preexisting conditions.
While you are isolating yourself at home, be sure to stay away from others if you do not live alone in order to support the health of those around you. Designate a separate bathroom for yourself, if possible, and completely cease or limit contact with any shared spaces and items. At this time, it is important that you reach out to a loved one or close friend to support you with your recovery — helping you procure essential items, regularly track your symptoms, and to provide assistance in case your health declines.
According to the CDC, there have not been reports of pets or other animals becoming sick with COVID-19 but it is important to limit contact with pets as a form of prevention after being diagnosed with the Coronavirus. If you’re the only one taking care of your pet, washing your hands before and after feeding or touching them is best until more information is available on their susceptibility.
Recovering from the Coronavirus
Even after you have been diagnosed with COVID-19, it is important to continue to follow increased hygiene practices that are associated with prevention. Covering sneezes, washing your hands with soap and water for 20 seconds, avoiding touching your face, sanitizing high-touch surfaces everyday, and social distancing will not only help you in your journey of recovery — it can prevent it from happening to someone else.
Monitoring your symptoms at home, being transparent with healthcare providers of your condition, and closely following care plans created by your doctor are also essential for recovery. Before seeking out medical attention, call ahead and let your doctor know which symptoms you are experiencing so that they can give you instructions over the phone or prepare themselves for your arrival.
Once you have been feverless for over 72 hours (without fever reducing medicine), there have been noticeable improvements in your other symptoms, and it has been at least 7 days since you first began experiencing symptoms — you may be on the verge of recovery and can potentially discontinue your self-quarantine. At this point in your experience, consult with your doctor and local health department to determine if ending your home isolation is in your best interest or if you should continue to self-quarantine in case the virus is still active within your community.
Caring for a Loved One with COVID-19
As soon as you find out that a loved one is diagnosed with the Coronavirus, it is important to consider their health, as well as, your own as you develop a plan to support their recovery. Keeping their living spaces sanitized, stocking up their home with an extended supply of essentials (non-perishable food, toiletries, cleaning supplies, medications), facilitating treatment (over-the-counter medicines, hydration, rest), and monitoring their symptoms are top priority — alerting their healthcare provider as soon as symptoms worsen and present themselves as Emergency Warning Signs.
Caregiving for someone with the Coronavirus is one of the few times that it is suggested to utilize a facemask in order to prevent the transferring of the virus from those who are infected to their caretaker. If facemasks are available to you, it is important for the infected to wear one around yourself, people they may live with, or at a doctor’s appointment. If your loved one is unable to wear a facemask themselves, you should wear one while caring for them.
Testing for COVID-19
If you are experiencing symptoms and want to look into your options for being tested for the Coronavirus, is it best to seek out information from your doctor and local health department to see if you are eligible to be tested — as the number of testing kits are currently limited.
Public health officials and lab testing facilities are in the process of exploring additional methods of running these tests, including drive-through facilities and utilizing separate tents that some hospitals are setting up outside of their emergency rooms — minimizing contact between people with COVID-19 and other patients.
As a result of the nature of the Pandemic and the distance required to contain it from spreading, the CDC may not be the only method of receiving testing in the coming weeks. Everlywell, a direct-to-consumer medical company that offers at-home lab testing for a variety of conditions, is currently working on being able to provide remote COVID-19 testing starting Monday, March 23.
Status of the COVID-19 Vaccine
As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) vaccination is still pending regulatory approval and clinical trials prior to becoming available to the public — it has been fast-tracked to human trials at the Kaiser Permanente Washington Health Research Institute with plans to continue testing over the next six weeks via a 45 participant trial that will be utilized to test the overall safety and effectiveness of the vaccine.
As the vaccine will need to continue to be tested prior to becoming available to the public — likely taking 12-18 months before distribution — cleanliness and social distancing are currently the most effective means of prevention.
Though there have been conversations surrounding whether or not a flu shot will help prevent people from becoming infected with the Coronavirus — it is important to know that it is not and shouldn’t be utilized as a COVID-19 vaccination. However, getting a flu shot to mitigate its severity and simplify the evaluation of patients during flu season — decreasing the number of flu-related hospitalizations and making room for those admitted with more serious conditions is encouraged.
How Seniors and Caregivers Can Be Proactive
As it has been found that people over the age of 60 are twice as likely to have a serious illness from COVID-19 due to preexisting conditions — the following practices can support their continued health.
Practice impeccable personal hygiene by washing your hands for at least 20 seconds throughout the day, avoid touching your face, cover your face with your elbow or tissue when sneezing, etc.
Limit or completely avoid exposure to public spaces, friends, and family members
This is especially important if someone close to you is experiencing symptoms
Create a household plan of action in order to ensure at-risk relatives are cared for
Make sure their home is stocked up with a month’s supply of nonperishable food, toiletries, cleaning products, pet supplies, and medications
Create a communication schedule for regularly checking in on senior family members — ensuring their safety and health by phone or email
If you do not live closeby, identify and reach out to an emergency contact that is located near your senior loved one incase additional assistance is needed
Reduce exposure to the virus by rescheduling non-essential medical appointments and cancelling or postponing social engagements
Look into Telehealth opportunities incase medical appointments are required
Avoid all forms of public travel — National, International, and localized transportation methods
Prioritize keeping your body moving during a self or government enforced quarantine by taking a walk inside your home, trying an online yoga class, or simply doing some low-impact stretching.
Utilize a medical alert system, like one from Medical Guardian, to ensure your senior loved one has 24/7 access to emergency or non-emergency assistance in case they experience symptoms.
For more information & updates on the Coronavirus, please check out the CDC.