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COVID-19: Who's at Risk?

With the new coronavirus that causes COVID-19 spreading rapidly across the globe, and now Ohio, the question on everyone’s mind is: Will I be next?

It’s natural, of course, to wonder. Every day, we hear about a new case, a new death. A new statistic or warning. But are your fears valid? Are most people at risk?

We went to the experts.

The World Health Organization and United States Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) are actively monitoring the outbreak, keeping close tabs on the number of people infected. It’s standard procedure for all new viruses, which are always considered public health concerns.

The risk of any infection depends on the virus, how easily it spreads, the severity of illness, our preparedness, and the availability of effective vaccines or treatments.

COVID-19 checks boxes that make it concerning:

  • It spreads easily from person to person.
  • It causes respiratory symptoms that can, in some people, become severe or result in death.

People most at risk

As the virus has reached community spread status in Ohio, your risk of infection increases. While most cases are mild, there are certain groups of people who are at a higher risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19.

Many factors can play into who’s at risk. These are just a few:

  • 65 years or older
  • Living in a nursing home or long-care facility
  • Have underlying medical conditions
  • Healthcare workers
  • Employed in food service or other essential businesses
  • Pregnant

Underlying medical conditions that put people at a higher risk include:

  • Asthma
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Diabetes
  • Serious heart conditions
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Severe obesity
  • Immunocompromised
  • Liver disease
  • High Blood Pressure

African Americans have been disproportionally affected by COVID-19. According to Columbus Public Health, African Americans make up 38% of COVID-19-related hospitalizations, but only 28% of Columbus’ population. Members of racial and ethnic minorities may be more likely to live in densely populated areas. People living in those areas may find it more difficult to practice prevention measures such as social distancing.

COVID-19 has also highlighted the lack of equal access to health care in certain demographics. African Americans are more likely to be uninsured, with 9.7 percent not having health insurance, compared to 5.4 percent of white adults. The cost of health insurance in the United States is a large factor as to whether or not people have insurance – 45 percent of those who are uninsured said their reasoning is that the cost is too high.

Living in low-income neighborhoods could also be linked to having severe illness to COVID-19. Poverty is linked to high levels of chronic stress; stress is known to weaken your body’s ability to fight infections. Living in low-income neighborhoods also makes getting affordable and healthy food harder, which contributes to poor nutrition and its adverse effects. The state of Ohio put together a Minority Health Strike Force to help address the higher impact African Americans face from COVID-19.

People with underlying medical conditions should stay in contact with their primary care providers, take prescribed medications as directed, and maintain a healthy diet and regular exercise.

The CDC has developed guidance to help in the risk assessment and management of people with potential exposures to COVID-19.

Precautions to take

Being low risk doesn’t mean you shouldn’t take precautions, though. Like with the flu, which is very active this time of year, people over 60 and those with health conditions like hypertension, diabetes, heart disease, chronic respiratory disease and cancer are more likely to experience severe symptoms if they become infected. According to a study conducted in February of 2020 by the World Health Organization, the highest mortality rate was among people 80 years or older. The state of Ohio has seen cases ranging in age from less than a year old to 106 years old.

Many of the steps you can take to prevent the flu work for COVID-19 as well. Like the flu, it’s spread by respiratory droplets from talking, singing, sneezing and coughing, and can be transferrable to surfaces and objects.

You can prevent spread by:

  • Wearing a mask in public and around those not in your household.
  • Avoiding close contact with those not in your household.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Avoiding touching your eyes, nose and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Using alcohol-based sanitizer if soap and water are not available.
  • Disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces.

Flu season can last until May. The good news is that by following the above guidelines you’ll be decreasing your risk of getting sick.

If you think you may have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, call your primary care doctor or the Ohio Department of Health Call Center. The call center is now open 7 days a week from 9 a.m.-8 p.m. to answer your COVID-19 questions. and can be reached at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634).

The information in this article was updated February 1, 2021, and aligns with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For the latest information about COVID-19, visit the CDC’s website.

Go to COVID-19 Toolkit page on OhioHealth blog


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