Since the COVID-19 pandemic began spreading across the United States, we’ve learned a lot about the disease itself. One important aspect of the illness that we now know is that certain segments of the population are at a higher risk for getting seriously ill when exposed, including the potential need for hospitalization, intensive care or ventilator use, as well as potential death.1

With all that we’ve learned over the past year or so, there are a number of things to keep in mind with regard to helping our community, and particularly those most vulnerable, stay as healthy as possible.

Who is Most At-Risk? 

According to the Centers for Disease Control, the factors that put people at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 include:

  • Age: The older you are, the more likely you are to have complications due to COVID-19, according to the CDC. While the greatest risk for severe illness is among those aged 85 and older, each progressive age group brings a higher risk for serious problems than the one before it. (For example, people in their 50s are at a higher risk than those in their 40s, and so on.)
  • People with certain underlying medical conditions: Although we certainly don’t know all there is to know yet about this disease, there are medical conditions that appear to put people more at risk for serious illness, according to the CDC. These include (but might not be limited to):
    • Cancer
    • Chronic kidney disease
    • Chronic obstructive pulmonary disease
    • Heart conditions like cardiomyopathies, coronary artery disease or heart failure
    • Obesity
    • Immunocompromisation caused by organ transplant
    • People who smoke
    • Type 2 diabetes
    • Sickle cell disease
    • Pregnancy

People with additional underlying causes like asthma, cystic fibrosis and hypertension, among others, may also be at a higher risk. For a more exhaustive and up-to-date list, check the CDC for updates here.

How you can help

Staying up-to-date on the latest COVID-19 findings is the most important way to make sure you’re doing your part when it comes to curbing the spread. Aside from that, if you’re less at-risk for developing severe complications from the disease, there are some additional things you can do to help the more vulnerable population during this difficult time. Some ideas include:

1. Stay home as much as possible: The best way to help stop the spread of COVID-19 to the more vulnerable population is to avoid exposure with them as much as possible. Since we now know that some people with COVID-19 can have the virus without exhibiting any symptoms — and can continue to spread the disease when they are asymptomatic — this is even more important to keep in mind.2 It also bears repeating that if you do feel sick, it’s essential that you stay home and get tested.

2. Use proper safety precautions when you are around other people: When you aren’t able to stay at home, be sure to follow the appropriate safety protocols outlined by the CDC, which include:

  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Maintain six feet of distance between people.
  • Cover your mouth and nose with a mask when you’re around other people.
  • Always cover your mouth and nose when you cough and sneeze.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces daily.

3. Offer your services: Whether it’s driving your elderly neighbor to their doctor’s appointment (or helping them to set up a virtual appointment, if that’s an option), grabbing groceries for your immunocompromised cousin or picking up your pregnant wife’s pharmacy order, any way that you can help cut down on the exposure that higher-risk people receive to the outside world will be one step towards keeping them more safe.

4. Suggest safe ways to stay social: If you know someone in your life who is sheltering in place because of their increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, consider offering safe ways for that person to stay in touch socially. This could mean checking in virtually every now and then to see how things are going, or suggesting a masked, socially distanced, outdoor meet-up, if the person feels safe doing that. Remember that this can be a lonely time, especially for vulnerable populations that live alone or are drastically cutting back on social engagements. Making frequent check-ins with them can help them feel more connected.

5. Don’t be afraid to ask: It’s nice to do things without asking (pick up extra milk for your elderly neighbor when you order your own groceries, or give your friend a Facetime call), but it also helps to ask what specifically people might need. You never know what someone might find helpful right now, and if you can offer up your services in any way, you’ll likely be making a big difference.

This is a stressful time for everyone, but for those who are more at risk for serious illness from COVID-19, the stakes feel even higher. Remember to stay up-to-date on the local rules and regulations in your area, and take the time to reach out to those who might need a little extra help. Every little bit makes a difference.