Coronavirus precautions for patients and others facing higher risks

(CDC/Alissa Eckert, Dan Higgins; inset: American Heart Association)
(CDC/Alissa Eckert, Dan Higgins; inset: American Heart Association)

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Eduardo Sanchez, M.D., M.P.H., FAAFP, the American Heart Association’s Chief Medical Officer for Prevention, shares advice and resources for patients and others concerned about the coronavirus.

As we all continue to adapt to life during the COVID-19 pandemic and get into some routine, it’s extremely important that we don’t let our guard down.

The best way to do that is to stick to the simple things we know can stop the spread of the coronavirus. You’ve heard these tips before, but you’ll keep hearing them because they’re currently our best defense against the virus:

  • Continue social distancing, at least 6 feet apart. In fact, stay home as much as you can.
  • Wash your hands frequently with soap and water for 20 seconds.
  • Don’t touch surfaces out in public.
  • Wear a mask or cloth face covering when you’re out in areas where it’s hard to social distance.
  • Cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then throw it away. If you don’t have a tissue handy, cough or sneeze into your long sleeve at the elbow fold.
  • Try not to touch your mouth, nose or eyes.

Continue to stay informed about this rapidly changing pandemic. The U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention offers regularly updated and reliable information. Be sure to also follow the guidance of your state and local health officials. And you can always find updates for patients and tips to stay healthy at heart.org.

Who is at risk of infection or complications?

It continues to look like older people with coronary heart disease or high blood pressure are more likely to develop more severe symptoms.

Stroke survivors and those with heart disease, including high blood pressure and congenital heart defects, may face an increased risk for complications if they become infected with the COVID-19 virus. People with diabetes, compromised immune systems, chronic lung diseases and other underlying conditions also may be at risk of more severe illness, according to the  CDC.

Also, early national data indicate black people, Hispanics and Latinos appear to be disproportionately impacted. Data from several cities and counties found black people there had higher death rates from COVID-19. Many black people are already more vulnerable to cardiovascular and stroke risks, as well as social determinants of health.  

If you are an essential worker or need to be out
We all need to be extra vigilant if we leave home. Be mindful that every surface is a potential source of infection and that everything you bring inside your house could be contaminated with the virus. Wipe down packages and wrappers, throw away bags and then wash your hands.

If you are an essential worker, you likely have more chances of being exposed to or actually contracting the virus.

The CDC’s new guidance says critical workers who have been exposed may be permitted to continue working if they remain asymptomatic and take additional precautions to protect themselves and others.

Those precautions include pre-screening for fever and other symptoms before work, regularly monitoring conditions at work, and wearing a mask and practicing social distancing at work.

If you’re hunkering down at home
The vast majority of Americans are now being asked to stay home, but safety precautions are still necessary even when you’re away from others. Continue the vigorous handwashing, and clean and disinfect surfaces regularly.

If you do have an emergency, such as heart attack or stroke symptoms, call 911. Some hospitals are crowded due to COVID-19, but emergency systems have plans to ensure appropriate treatment. Getting care as soon as possible improves the chances of survival, and first responders are well trained to avoid spreading germs.

Stay in close contact with your health care providers. Keep their contact information handy, and ask whether electronic consulting or instant messaging options are available.

If you live alone, gather a list of support contacts you could call on, such as friends, relatives, colleagues and neighbors. Keep this contact information in one easy-to-find place.

Take stock of your medications. Make sure you have enough for an extended time. Also figure out how you would get refills if you couldn’t leave home. Find out if your pharmacy can deliver refills. Your health care provider or health plan may help advise you here as well.

And, of course, continue to stay active and eat healthy. Stay connected with the people you care about, because feelings of isolation can take a toll on your health and well-being.

What if you have symptoms of the coronavirus?
Common symptoms include fever, cough and shortness of breath. Contact your health care provider if you have these symptoms. And, again, if you experience the warning signs of heart attack or stroke, call 911 immediately.

If health experts are investigating you or someone in your household as a person with a possible case of COVID-19, or if you or someone in your household is confirmed to have COVID-19 but the person is stable enough to be treated at home, consider these precautions advised by the CDC:

  • Make sure appropriate caregivers are available at home.
  • Ensure there’s a separate bedroom where the patient can recover without sharing immediate space with others.
  • Make sure everyone living in your household can adhere to precautions recommended as part of home care or isolation. That includes covering coughs or sneezes, relentless handwashing, not touching your face and being sure to regularly wipe down surfaces with household cleaners.
  • Set up some basic rules for making sure the person being isolated can get food and other necessities with minimal risk.
  • Stay in touch with your health care provider.