Americans over the age of 60, among the most vulnerable to the new coronavirus, should stock up on groceries, medication and other necessities so they can avoid going out more than absolutely necessary, a top Centers for Disease Control and Prevention official said Monday.
Dr. Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, said in a media briefing that people over 60 are the most vulnerable to getting sick and perhaps dying from COVID-19, as the illness caused by the virus is officially known. In that group, those especially at risk are senior citizens with underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease and lung disease.
Older Americans should also avoid unnecessary travel, including long plane trips and cruises, Messonnier said. She said she advised her parents, who are in their 80s and live outside of an area with community spread of the virus, that they should stay close to home.
“The highest risk is those who are older and with underlying health conditions,” Messonnier said. “I think if you’re in one of those groups, separately or together, you need to be thinking towards what personal protections you want to take.”
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Americans of all ages should anticipate they’ll eventually be exposed to the virus, “and there’s a good chance many will become sick,” Messonnier said. The primary focus now is protecting those most at risk for a serious COVID-19 illness, those 60 and older. As people grow older, they become more susceptible to illnesses such as coronavirus, which can develop into pneumonia.
To prepare, older Americans and those responsible for their care should make sure “you have supplies on hand like routine medications for blood pressure and diabetes, and over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies to treat fever and other symptoms,” Messonnier said.
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The point of stocking up on necessities “is to kind of stick close to home,” Messonnier said, but she emphasized people should not panic and stockpile cleaning supplies, water, toilet paper and other items.
“This is a time for people to prepare for what they might need to do, but not a time for people to clear out the shelves,” she said.
Based on global data tracking the behavior of the virus in China, the epicenter of the outbreak, and South Korea, people younger than 60 who don’t have other health problems generally have mild symptoms if they catch the virus.
Some of those people may be family members caring for an older person most at risk for contracting COVID-19. Everyone in that situation should come up with a backup plan in case they get sick and can’t help their relatives, Messonnier said.
“I understand these recommendations may not be popular and that they may be difficult for some people,” she said.
Most people exposed to the new coronavirus will get mild cases of COVID-19, if they get sick at all, Messonnier emphasized. In China, where the outbreak began, 80 percent of cases were mild, she said. The most common symptoms include a fever and cough, but in more serious cases, pneumonia can result.
According to the latest U.S. figures from Johns Hopkins University on Monday afternoon, there were more than 600 confirmed cases of the new coronavirus. Twenty-two people — 19 of them in the Seattle area — have died after getting sick with the virus.
In China, which has had 80,735 confirmed cases since the outbreak began, 3,120 people have died. South Korea has had 7,478 confirmed cases and 53 deaths. In Italy, where the prime minister put the entire country on lockdown Monday, there have been 9,172 confirmed cases and 463 deaths.