You think you’re safe from coronavirus (COVID-19) by following all the rules. But that doesn’t mean you’re not at risk. If you fall into a high-risk category, it’s even more crucial to protect yourself. Review these 20 things that put you in danger so you can learn how to be even more cautious—saving your life and someone else’s.
COVID-19 doesn’t discriminate and you’re susceptible to infection no matter your age. But if you’re 65 or older, it’s more likely that the virus could lead to severe illness and complications that may lead to hospitalization—or even death. According to the CDC, “8 out of 10 deaths reported in the U.S. have been in adults 65 years old and older.”
The Rx: This statistic may be due to how common it is for older folks to have underlying health conditions. It may also be due to a weakened immune system as we age. No matter the reason, if you’re 65 or older, it’s crucial to do all you can to stay away from this virus since it could be deadly.
Do you really need that pint of ice cream? Is it a good time to go window shopping for a new vacuum? No. Whether your area is under “shelter in place,” “stay at home,” or just “social distancing” orders, it’s not a good time to cross things off your to-do list that involves public places. That’s because the coronavirus is way more contagious than the flu or other airborne illnesses. “Based on most estimates, each infected person is infecting between two and three additional people,” says Dr. Ranu S Dhillon, MD, from Harvard Medical School.
The Rx: Before you leave your house, ask yourself if it’s essential right now. Runs for groceries or medications are understandable, but even those can be delivered. It’s important to limit your time in public as much as possible.
The CDC warns that long-term care facility residents or nursing home residents are at higher risk of contracting COVID-19. They’re living together in a group and having staff (who may be in and out of the facility) taking care of them, which increases risk for exposure. Since most residents are older and may already have health complications, they’re also at higher risk for severe illness related to the virus.
The Rx: If you or a loved one live in a nursing home or long-term care facility, limit contact with staff and other residents as much as possible. Consider taking meals in your room and other precautions, including frequent handwashing and disinfecting surfaces in the room. And if you know someone in a nursing home, don’t expect to visit unless extenuating circumstances permit it.
If you’re out running your essential errands, be careful about touching products, materials, and surfaces. According to the National Institutes of Health (NIH), COVID-19 is detectable for “up to four hours on copper, up to 24 hours on cardboard, and up to two to three days on plastic and stainless steel.”
The Rx: It’s impossible to grab the groceries you need without touching surfaces and packaging, but attempt to minimize what you touch as much as possible. When you’re in public, don’t put your fingers in your mouth or touch your face until you get home and can conduct a thorough hand washing. Wear gloves when outside—even washable winter ones will do.
COVID-19 is a virus that attacks the lungs. Lung diseases, such as lung cancer, mesothelioma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or emphysema, don’t necessarily increase your risk for contracting COVID-19. However, if you live with lung disease or lung issues in general, you’re at a higher risk for complications due to infection of the virus, including hospitalization, permanent lung damage, or even death.
The Rx: If you have a chronic lung disease, take every precaution you can to limit your exposure to the virus, including wearing a mask and gloves when in public. If you’re a smoker, quit now!
The health and stability of your lungs is an important factor for how your body is affected by coronavirus if you contract it. If you have asthma, you’re at higher risk for experiencing severe complications. According to the CDC, if you have asthma, the coronavirus “can affect your respiratory tract (nose, throat, lungs), cause an asthma attack, and possibly lead to pneumonia and acute respiratory disease.”
The Rx: Limit your potential exposure to the virus by socially isolating. Keep your home and environment clean and disinfected. Continue taking asthma medication and avoiding asthmatic triggers, especially stress or polluted air.
You’re following all the precautions to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19 by having your groceries, food, medicine, and supplies delivered to your doorstep. It’s smart to avoid public places, but your delivered items may also bring the virus into your home. Since the virus actively lives on surfaces for hours and days, delivered food and medicines aren’t safe either.
The Rx: According to the CDC, “Cleaning of visibly dirty surfaces followed by disinfection is a best practice measure for prevention of COVID-19 and other viral respiratory illnesses in households and community settings.” When you receive a package, throw away packaging and wipe down all items with disinfecting spray or wipes. Wash your hands thoroughly after touching delivered items.
Your current health determines whether or not you’re at risk for developing serious complications related to COVID-19. If you have a heart condition, such as heart disease, your risks are definitely higher. According to a bulletin released in February by the American College of Cardiology, “40% of hospitalized COVID-19 patients had cardiovascular disease or cerebrovascular disease (which refers to blood flow in the brain, such as stroke).” The virus attacks the lungs but if your heart has to work harder to function normally, both your respiratory and cardiovascular systems are compromised.
The Rx: If you have a heart condition, take extra precautions to avoid public places. Wear gloves and a mask if you must go out in public and ensure your home, car, and other environments remain disinfected. If you take medication for your heart condition, have at least a two months supply on hand and continue following your doctor’s orders.
Self-isolation gets boring so you head over to your friend’s house to play a game of Scrabble. You’re not spending time in public or with a big group and your friend feels healthy, so it’s okay, right? Wrong. Even if your friends and family have been social distancing and don’t feel any symptoms of the virus, it doesn’t mean they aren’t infected. According to Harvard Medical School, “Some people infected with the virus have no symptoms.”
The CDC also warns that after exposure to the virus, it can take two to 14 days before you begin to feel symptoms, if you do at all. If you spend time with friends or family members who are unknowingly infected, you can easily catch the virus as well and spread it to many others.
The Rx: If you feel fine and your friends and family members also feel fine, it’s tempting to spend time together. To adhere to social distancing, however, it’s important to avoid spending time with anyone who doesn’t live in your household. Try video chats or conference calls to keep in touch with loved ones instead.
Your immune system is key in fighting off the virus if you become infected. If you have a healthy immune system, you’re more likely to experience mild symptoms from COVID-19 and recover quickly. However, if you have an autoimmune disease or are immunocompromised in some way, your risk for experiencing severe and serious symptoms from coronavirus increases. This includes those who have HIV or AIDS or who are undergoing cancer treatments, such as radiation or chemotherapy.
According to Dr. Paul Volberding from the University of California, “Being immunocompromised might not so much increase your likelihood of getting infected with something like COVID-19 but it might make the outcome of that infection much worse.”
The Rx: While you may feel fine, it’s important to treat yourself as a high-risk patient as the virus spreads. Take the rules of social distancing seriously and avoid contact with others at all costs.
If you’re living with diabetes, there’s not a higher likelihood that you’ll contract coronavirus. However, if you do become infected with the virus, there’s a greater chance that you’ll experience severe symptoms, such as fever or pneumonia. According to the American Diabetes Association, in China it was found that “people with diabetes had much higher rates of serious complications and death than people without diabetes.”
The Rx: If you’re living with diabetes, reduce your vulnerability for contracting the virus by isolating yourself from the general public. Keep yourself healthy and your immune system strong by continuing to monitor your disease as normal and taking all medications as directed by your doctor.
The more people you expose yourself to in large crowds, whether it’s at a park or at the grocery store, the higher your risk for contracting COVID-19. Whether you fall into the “high risk” category or not, your adherence to social distancing techniques is crucial to stop the spread of the virus.
The Rx: Implement social distancing techniques, including avoiding large crowds, immediately. Try to only interact with those who live in your household. If you venture out to a nearby park and see a large crowd, go somewhere else. Try to stay at least six feet from others whenever possible.
Being cooped up in your house for weeks gets boring, especially if you run out of quarantine snacks. But you better think twice before you desperately knock on your neighbor’s door with a bottle of wine for some much-needed social interaction. Don’t assume it’s okay to hang out with them because they look “healthy.” It’s possible for those infected with COVID-19 to never feel symptoms of the virus, and you don’t know if their definition of self-isolation is the same as yours—the exposure is not worth that bottle of Sancerre.
The Rx: While socially isolating makes for long and boring days, it’s important to stay at home and only socialize with your own household members. If you miss your neighbors, take out some sidewalk chalk and write each other messages. Call out to each other from your porches or exchange numbers and keep in touch through text messaging or a Slack group chat.
According to the University of California San Francisco Health Department, “An estimated 60% of Americans aged 20 years and older are considered overweight and one-quarter are considered obese.” Not only does obesity increase your risk for heart disease, type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and stroke, being overweight may also affect how your body deals with the coronavirus.
If you’re infected with COVID-19 and you’re overweight or obese, you’re at higher risk for developing complications, including pneumonia. Extra weight makes your heart and lungs have to work harder during everyday tasks, so if you contract a virus that attacks your lungs, it’s more likely you’ll experience complications and may need to seek medical treatment.
The Rx: If you’re overweight or obese, it’s even more important to follow social distancing protocol. Avoid public places where you may contract the virus and implement thorough hand washing techniques. Your health should be your top priority, so listen to your doctor’s advice on maintaining a healthy weight through diet and exercise.
Individuals who have had a bone marrow or organ transplant are known to have weaker immune systems. The American Society of Transplantation addresses the concerns of transplant and bone marrow recipients under the recent COVID-19 outbreak. “We do not have specific information on whether COVID-19 infection will be more severe in transplant recipients compared to healthy people; however, other viruses often cause more severe disease in people whose immune system is low, such as transplant recipients.”
The Rx: The American Society of Transplantation urges all organ and bone marrow transplant patients to follow protocols and guidelines set by the CDC. This includes restricted travel and sheltering in place. The organization also warns patients to reduce their risk of contracting the virus by isolating themselves from friends and family members who may have been exposed to the virus.
If you’re 65 and over, immunocompromised, overweight, or have another medical condition that makes you high-risk for complications from the coronavirus, avoid visiting public places as much as possible. If you stay in your home with only household members you know haven’t been exposed to the virus and ensure your environment stays sanitized and disinfected, you’re decreasing your risk of contracting the virus.
Ask family members, friends, or neighbors who don’t have these high-risk factors to run your errands for you. If you have to go out in public and there’s no avoiding it, wear protection. Without protection, you’re more vulnerable to the virus on surfaces you touch or from the droplets of other peoples’ coughs and sneezes.
The Rx: Those without high risk aren’t advised to wear face masks when in public. However, if you do fall into the high-risk category, don’t leave home without a mask and gloves. Wear these protective items throughout the duration of your time in public, then throw them away as soon as your errands are completed. Even if you wore a face mask and gloves, wash your hands and clothes as soon as you get home to kill any potentially lingering bacteria.
Washing your hands frequently is one of the best ways to keep the virus and other germs at bay. It’s even more important to thoroughly wash your hands after coughing, sneezing, before and after eating, or after spending time in a public place. If you’re in a hurry or you don’t have the right items for a proper handwashing, however, you’re not doing much. A quick rinse in water doesn’t kill the virus or other germs that may be on your hands.
The Rx: The World Health Organization (WHO) advises that you use an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water and wash your hands often. The CDC recommends scrubbing your hands with soap, preferably antibacterial, for at least 20 seconds, being sure to thoroughly rub in between fingers, on the backs of hands, and under fingernails, before rinsing under running water.
You’ve probably already heard the advice from the CDC to stop touching your face as a way to prevent spreading the virus. According to the Association for Professionals in Infection and Control and Epidemiology, people touch their face about 23 times every hour.
COVID-19 is spread from exposure to droplets that come from an infected person sneezing and coughing. If these droplets land on your hands or fingers and you touch your face, you can easily infect yourself through your eyes, nose, or mouth.
The Rx: It’s a tough habit to break, but it’s crucial to refrain from touching your face, nose, and mouth, especially when you’re in public. Identifying your triggers helps. If you truly have an itch or need to touch your face, it’s only safe to do so after you’ve properly washed your hands. Better yet: Use a tissue instead of your fingers.
In most areas, public transportation, including the bus and train systems, are still open to the general public. For some, this is the only way they can get to essential jobs or travel to grocery stores. But these modes of transportation put you at higher risk of contracting the virus. According to the CDC, “Crowded travel settings, like airports, may increase chances of getting COVID-19, if there are other travelers with coronavirus infection.”
The Rx: Avoid air travel at all costs, since it increases your risk for exposure. In your daily life, if you have other methods of transportation available to run your essential errands, such as your own car, a bike, or walking, choose these modes instead of public transit. Decreasing the amount of contact you have with others also decreases your risk for contracting COVID-19.
Even if you don’t fall into a high-risk category, it’s important to take this pandemic seriously. When you’re careless with your actions and don’t take the proper precautions, you increase your risk for infection and other people around you.
The Rx: Follow CDC guidelines for proper handwashing, disinfecting your home, and the handling of goods. Keep abreast on updates in your area and follow all shelter-in-place and social distancing orders as they’re enforced. You can minimize the negative effects of COVID-19 by doing everything you can to lower your risk of infection and the spread of the virus.
And to get through this pandemic at your healthiest, don’t miss these 50 Things You Should Never Do During the Coronavirus Pandemic.