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by Herb Weiss, Contributing writer on aging
Twenty-four-hour programming on cable television, television
networks, talk radio and newspapers report the spread of coronavirus (COVID-19)
across the nation. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention
(CDC), just days ago there were about 700 confirmed and presumed U.S. cases
from 38 jurisdictions, that’s 36 states and New York and D.C. There are more
than 100,000 cases worldwide. CDC officials expect this count to go up. counts
to go up.
At the AARP’s Coronavirus Information Tele-Town Hall event,
held Tuesday, March 10, federal health experts gathered to the symptoms of
COVID-19, how to protect yourself, and what it means for older adults and
family caregivers. The event was moderated by AARP’s Vice President of Content
Strategy and; Communications Bill Walsh and featured Admiral Brett P. Giroir,
M.D., , Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health and
Human Services; Nancy Messonnier, M.D., and internist and Director of CDC’s
National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases; and Seema Verma,
Administrator at the Centers for Medicare and; Medicaid Services.
The invited experts warned seniors to take heed. People age
60 and over are at high risk of catching COVID-19, it’s severity especially for
those with underlying medical conditions.
Getting the Best Source of Medical Information
According to AARP’s Walsh, the Washington, DC-based
nonprofit convened the tele-town hall about coronavirus in an effort to protect
the public. “While we see an important role for AARP to play in providing
consumer information and advocacy related to the virus, the public should be
aware the best source of medical information is the Centers for Disease Control
and Prevention,” he said.
At this briefing Messonnier noted that reports out of China
that looked at more than 70,000 COVID-19 patients and found that about 80
percent who had the virus had a mild case and recovered. About 15 percent to 20
percent developed a serious illness.
The COVID-19 virus affects adults, especially seniors, says
Messonnier. noting that people over age 60 are at a higher risk of becoming
seriously ill from this virus, especially if they have underlying health
conditions such as diabetes, heart disease.
Although younger people with underlying health problems are
also at risk, the top official at CDC stressed that older people with health
problems are the most vulnerable. She noted that her parents are in their 80s,
and even though they don’t live in community reported to have the virus, she
advised them to stay close to home.
CDC’s Messonnier suggested that seniors stock up on
over-the-counter medications to treat fever, cough and other symptoms, as well
as tissues, common medical supplies, and routine medications for blood pressure
Although there is no vaccine to prevent coronavirus and
there are no specific medicines to treat it., there are many things you can do
to prevent the illness, says Messonnier. She urged seniors to avoid contact
with people who are sick. Keeping the COVID-19 virus at bay can be as simple as
simply washing your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds,
especially after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing, or having been in a
public place, she said, urging seniors to wash your hands after touching
surfaces in public places. If soap and water are not available, use a hand
sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol [if you can find it].
Messonnier warns seniors to avoid touching high-touch
surfaces in public places – like elevator buttons, door handles, handrails,
handshaking with people, etc. Use a tissue or your sleeve to cover your hand or
finger if you must touch something. It’s difficult for many but just avoid
touching your face, nose, and eyes, she says.
Messonnier also suggested that seniors to clean and
disinfect their homes to remove germs: practice routine cleaning of frequently
touched surfaces (for example: tables, doorknobs, light switches, handles,
desks, toilets, faucets, sinks & cell phone). Also, avoid crowds,
especially in poorly ventilated spaces. Your risk of exposure to respiratory
viruses like COVID-19 may increase in crowded, closed-in settings with little
air circulation if there are people in the crowd who are sick.
Avoid all non-essential travel including plane trips, and
especially avoid embarking on cruise ships, warns Messonnier.
Messonnier also called on people over age 6o to follow
“social distancing strategies,” such as teleworking and avoiding crowds,
especially in poorly ventilated spaces. This might mean that if your grandchild
has a fever and runny nose, it may not be the right time to visit, she says.
“If COVID-19 begins spreading in your community, keep in
touch family and friends by phone or email to let them know how you are doing,”
recommends Messonnier. Consider ways of getting foods brought to your house
through family, social, or commercial networks. Have at least three days of household
items and groceries on hand so that you will be prepared to stay at home for an
extended period of time, she adds.
And if you rely on a caregiver for routine help, make
arrangements for backup care in case your primary caregiver becomes sick, suggests
Seema Verma, who oversees the Centers for Medicare &
Medicaid Services, reported that major health insurers are now responding to
the pandemic coronavirus outbreak by pledging to relax prescription refill
limits on “maintenance medication” for Medicare Advantage and Part D
Hot Off the Press…
“No matter what type of [Medicare] program you are in, you
can get a coronavirus test with no cost sharing, Verma announced noting that
she has gotten a commitment from insurance companies to also cover coronavirus
tests with no cost-sharing.
Medicare now pays for telehealth services. “You can Skype
with them. You can send them pictures, and all of those are covered services,
so your doctor can bill for those particular services, says Verma.
If you have difficulty stocking up on your prescriptions at
the pharmacy, consider refilling your medications with a mail-order service,
recommends DHHS’s Giroir. Ask your physician to switch your prescription from a
30-day supply to a 90-day supply to “keep you out of the doctor’s office or a
crowded grocery store or pharmacy,” he adds.
“This is not the time to panic. Stay informed, take it
seriously because it can be a serious disease, stay up to date. We are
committed to doing whatever we can to communicate,” says Giroir, noting that
CDC’s website is a great source of information, but you want to know what is
going on in your local community because that is where you get the most direct
information about the risk.
For details, about COVID-19, go to https://www.cdc.gov/coronavirus/2019-nCoV/index.html.
Also, go to https://health.ri.gov/diseases/ncov2019/.
Here’s a transcript of the event: https://www.aarp.org/health/conditions-treatments/info-2020/tele-town-hall-coronavirus.html.
Herb Weiss has enjoyed a
distinguished 36 year career in journalism, earning a national reputation as an
expert on aging, health care and medical issues. Over 630 articles that he has
authored or coauthored have appeared in national, state and local publications.
Governor Gina Raimondo appointed Him to the Rhode Island Advisory Commission on
aging. Today, Herb’s weekly newspaper column appears in the Pawtucket Times and
Woonsocket call, two North Rhode Island daily newspapers, and will now run on occasion
in RINewsToday.com. Herb and his wife, Patty Zacks, reside in Pawtucket, Rhode
Published in the Woonsocket Call on March 15, 2020