- In a media briefing on Monday about the novel coronavirus, Dr. Nancy Messonnier focused on making recommendations for people at a higher risk of getting ill from the virus.
- She also said that eventually “many people in the United States” will be exposed to the virus and that “there’s a good chance many will become sick.”
- For now, she said, people over 60 should stock up on food, medication, and other necessities so they can avoid needing to venture out too much.
- Caretakers and family members should help older people prepare, and develop a plan for what they’ll do if either they or the people they’re caring for get sick.
- While people over 60 are at a greater risk of becoming ill than younger folks, it’s important for people to understand that risk increases with age, making people in their 80s and 90s at the highest risk, especially if they have chronic health conditions too.
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People who are over 60 years old, as well as those with underlying health conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease, are most vulnerable to getting sick or even dying from the novel coronavirus and should take particular precautions to help protect themselves, Dr. Nancy Messonnier, the director of the National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, said in a media briefing on Monday.
She also said many people in the US should anticipate being exposed to the virus eventually.
“It’s fair to say that as the trajectory of the outbreak continues, many people in the United States will at some point in time, either this year or next, be exposed to this virus, and there’s a good chance many will become sick,” she said.
But during the call she focused on the people most at risk of becoming seriously ill from the disease now. “Our goal is to protect you,” Messonnier said. “This will require you and your family to take action.”
Taking action means ensuring that “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 also recommended higher-risk people and their families stock up on “enough household items and groceries so that you will be prepared to stay home for a period of time.”
She reiterated advice to avoid close contact with people who are sick, wash your hands often and well, steer clear of “high-touch” surfaces in public places, and avoid crowds, particularly those in poorly ventilated spaces.
“This weekend, the federal government made a very specific recommendation in this context that travelers, particularly those with underlying health issues, defer all cruise-ship travel worldwide,” she said, adding that people at a higher risk should also cancel or reschedule “non-essential travel, such as long plane trips.”
Messonnier said it’s important for family members and neighbors to look out for folks who are in these higher-risk categories by, for example, making sure you’re familiar with their medications and helping them get necessary food and supplies.
The goal of stocking up, she emphasized, is so more vulnerable people “can minimize trips to the store” and “stay close to home.”
Finally, she said, caretakers should make a plan in case their loved ones do get sick or if they themselves become ill, like having backup caretakers.
“Everyone has a role to play in helping to protect our family members, friends, colleagues, and neighbors who are at most risk,” she said. Even if the recommendations are unpopular or difficult, she added, “at CDC, our No. 1 priority is the health and safety of the American people.”
Messonnier emphasized that risk increases with age
The “over-60” marker is not a black-and-white cutoff separating people who aren’t at risk from those who are.
“I really think it’s important for the American public to understand the risk,” Messonnier added. “We use these broad categories of over 60 or over 65, but the data really says that as you get older the risk goes up.”
In other words, people over 80 or even 90 are at the greatest risk, especially if they also have chronic health conditions.
“I would recommend that people make their own decisions based on an understanding of that risk,” she said.
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