At risk for severe COVID-19? Rely on your support system now

Limit your exposure by staying home more, avoiding crowds over holidays

Light and dark blue infographic showing medical icons next to text: "COVID-19 HIGH RISK SAFETY PRECAUTION CHECKLIST: Get a flu shot. Wear a mask. Practice social distancing. Wash your hands often. Limit outings. Get creative socially."

The novel coronavirus affects everybody differently, as we’ve learned.

Sanford Health Chief Medical Officer Allison Suttle, M.D., emphasizes that the concern is not so much about the younger, healthier population as it is the older, more high-risk population.

“If an individual at a higher risk gets the virus, they’re likely to get very sick from it, likely to be hospitalized, need to be intubated, face long-term consequences or potentially die as a result of this virus,” Dr. Suttle said. “This is a serious concern.”

Sanford Health has a registry of every patient diagnosed with COVID-19.

“When we look at our statistics, we’ve studied very closely who is affected. What we see is that people who are over age 60, those with chronic conditions, high blood pressure, chronic kidney disease, and individuals who are obese tend to be hospitalized, tend to be in the hospital longer, and may require more intensive therapy.”

Safety for the holidays

Anyone who falls under that high-risk category, whether it be from older age or chronic medical conditions, could suffer far worse consequences of COVID-19 as a result of not taking proper safety precautions, Dr. Suttle said.

“This is especially important as we approach the holidays.”

In order to ensure a safe season for everyone in the family, she suggests wearing masks, limiting the number of people in a room and the amount of time you’re together. In addition, be extra cautious in the weeks leading up to that time.

“Be careful who you allow into your circle and make sure your family members are keeping themselves really safe before they come to see you,” Dr. Suttle explains. “If your grandchild was at a party and then comes and spends time with you, it will be as though you were at that same party, too.”

Don’t let your guard down

Rising case numbers in the Dakotas could lead to a rise in illness and hospitalizations.

“When we’re dealing with a situation where there’s a lot of community spread, we really need to make sure that those that are in that high-risk group are protecting themselves,” she said.

“I know that’s hard to hear after we’ve been in this for seven months, but now is the time to take care of yourself.”

If you’re in that high-risk category, consider the following safety measures:

  • Limit the amount of time away from home and consider getting someone to run errands for you
  • Limit the number of people that you’re exposed to; keep the interaction to close family and friends
  • Wash your hands often
  • Stay home when you’re not feeling well
  • Wear a mask if you leave home

If you test positive for COVID-19

The high risk population is likely to get more severe illness from COVID-19, Dr. Suttle says.

“At the time of the diagnosis, your doctor would recognize that and likely admit you to the hospital or get you involved in our home monitoring program so we can watch you closely if you’re not meeting criteria for hospitalization,” she said. “But we can change plans if you need to be hospitalized.”

What about a flu shot?

Get your flu shot, she says. While it won’t protect you from the coronavirus, it will help you stay healthy by reducing your risk of severe influenza.

Related: Flu shots even more important during COVID-19 pandemic

“One thing I’d recommend for high risk individuals is to get a team around you that’s going to be able to help you,” Dr. Suttle said. “You need to protect yourself. You need to stay home. Find creative ways to stay social so you don’t feel isolated.”

She suggests connecting with friends or loved ones for help running errands or shopping for groceries.

“If you do need to go out, find opportunities outside of a high-traffic time to really limit your risk of exposure.”

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Posted In Coronavirus, Expert Q&A, Flu, Senior Services

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