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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.
  • There is no vaccine to prevent it.

As the virus has reached community spread status in Ohio, your risk of infection increases. But the CDC says most Americans still have a low risk of exposure and infection, even in communities where cases have been reported.

Those at highest risk include:

  • Healthcare workers caring for patients with COVID-19.
  • People who have been in close contact with people infected with COVID-19.
  • Travelers returning from international locations where the virus is spreading.

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

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 by the World Health Organization, the highest mortality rate was among people 80 years or older.

Many of the steps you can take to prevent the flu work for the new coronavirus as well. Like the flu, it’s believed to be spread by respiratory droplets from sneezing and coughing, and may be transferrable to surfaces and objects.

You can prevent spread by:

  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick.
  • 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 have the flu or may have come into contact with someone who has COVID-19, call your primary care doctoror 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 March 14, 2020, and aligns with advice from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). For the latest information about the new coronavirus, visit the CDC’s website.


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