The possibility of a pandemic can be scary enough when you’re perfectly healthy, but it can be downright terrifying for the millions of U.S. residents who live with underlying conditions. People with lung problems, lowered immune systems, overactive immune systems, cardiac problems and a host of other chronic medical conditions may need to take extra precautions to stay safe.
Who's most at risk? If you or someone you know has an impaired immune system or underlying lung, heart or kidney condition, you’ll need to take extra precautions to keep everyone safe. At-risk people should stay indoors as much as possible, keeping air and surfaces sanitized. Require home visitors to take their shoes off at the door, run a humidifier and UV air purifier whenever anyone visits, take measures to sanitize the laundry and have enough food, water and medicine to last at least 2 weeks in the case of a lock-down. If the at-risk person must go out, it may be best to wear a mask (consult a physician) but definitely they mustn't touch their face, should avoid crowds, avoid restaurants and make only necessary trips such as visiting the doctor. Here are details on what to do.
Germ Safety: The Basics
Everyone should know and follow the basics of germ safety. This is especially important in a pandemic. The World Health Organization (WHO) stresses the importance of frequent and thorough hand washing that lasts at least twenty seconds (sing the alphabet song), as well as keeping at least six feet from potentially sick people.
But for those who are already suffering from an underlying condition, the basics aren't enough. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) recommends at-risk people to stay home as much as possible and avoid crowds when they must go out. "At-risk" includes seniors (people over 60), people with chronic lung, heart or kidney conditions and people with compromised immune systems, such as HIV/AIDS sufferers, as well as people with autoimmune diseases and even diabetics.
That's a lot of people who need to take extra care. So while this may seem as though we are being overly cautious, it's better to err on the side of being safe at this time than to take risks that could cost lives.
Take Extra Precautions at Home
Avoiding large crowds will eliminate the largest risk, but staying home doesn’t mean the at-risk person is completely in the clear. Germs can still find their way into the home via other people. It's even possible to bring in something uninvited with the mail. Coronaviruses, for example, may be capable of surviving on many surfaces for as long as 9 days.
At-risk people need to take extra measures to reduce their chances of getting infected so starting with a disinfectant is as good a place to begin as any. Take care to disinfect anything that comes in from the outside. And don’t forget to wash hands thoroughly after handling anything that may have been touched by other people.Here are some tips to reduce the risk of infection within the home:
- Require anyone who enters to take their shoes off outside or at the door — no exceptions. Shoes pick up and distribute all sorts of nasty germs, potentially turning the floor into one giant Petri dish. If this isn’t already a standing rule in your home, make it one.
- Run a humidifier and a UV air purifier, especially when other people are present. Viruses don’t fare as well in higher humidity levels, and UV air purifiers can sterilize whatever may remain in the air. Both might also help inhabitants breathe easier, regardless of any other conditions.
- Take extra measures in the laundry room. Washing machines can harbor all sorts of pathogens, potentially infecting "clean” clothes and may even expose someone when they go to move the clothes to the dryer. Disinfect all outer surfaces regularly, and wash clothes on the hot setting or with a laundry sanitizer to ensure they’re germ-free even before they go into the dryer.
Take Extra Measures in Public
Some may have to leave home if the demands of work or life leave them no choice. In that case, they’ll need to be extra careful not to pick up anything infectious while out. It’s unfortunate, but we can’t count on other people to keep their germs to themselves; we are our own best defense against a world of opportunistic pathogenic invaders just waiting to take hold.
Here are some extra measures to take in public:
- Pay attention to the surroundings in public. Keep eyes and ears open for coughing, sniffling or sneezing; if you see or hear any evidence of illness nearby, get out of there as soon as possible and be careful not to walk into the airstream. If you can’t leave, stay at least six or more feet away and take precautions to keep your personal space sanitized — be careful to avoid any communal spaces.
- Avoid dining out. Restaurant workers often cannot afford to take time off if they're sick, so food from these places can be exposed to more germs than food from home or the grocery store. For those who have no choice, keep hands clean, washing up or using an alcohol-based hand sanitizer after touching menus or other frequently handled items. Specify no lemon in the water, since lemon wedges can wind up handled by multiple people, turning them into potentially dangerous vessels. Consider bringing your own dining utensils and refrain from eating any finger foods. But we can't express enough that dining out is a high-risk activity in this case and should probably be avoided altogether by at-risk people.
- Avoid germs in the workplace. First, it's probably best for at-risk people to request time off or to work remotely if at all possible. As for help in getting the technology set up to make it happen. But for those who must go in, keep hand sanitizer nearby and use it frequently. Make sure coworkers are aware of the situation and talk to the boss about enforcing a strict call-in policy for anyone who falls ill. Never touch your face except for immediately after washing your hands.
- Be vigilant about handwashing and not touching your face in public. Doctor’s offices and hospitals may seem like the most obvious place to catch an infection, but even touching your grocery cart, door handles or elevator buttons are a risk. It may help to learn to push buttons with a knuckle or an elbow and to open doors with a foot or use the automated doors. Clean surfaces and hands frequently to avoid moving the virus around.
Be Prepared for Quarantine
In case a quarantine comes up in your area, you may need to hunker down for a while. Make sure you have enough food, water and medications to last a solid 2 weeks. This includes any necessary prescription and OTC medications, as well as any medical supplies such as syringes, diabetic supplies, cannulas and oxygen tanks. Be prepared ahead of time, so you aren’t scrambling for supplies in the midst of a panic. And don’t hesitate to call a doctor about what other steps to take for your specific condition during a lockdown.
Remember that it's okay to be extra-cautious when you are or are caring for an at-risk person. Precaution isn't panic. Don't let others make you feel bad as you prepare yourself and your family for the best possible chance during this time. A pandemic can be especially threatening for people with underlying health issues, but there are measures you can take to keep yourself and your loved ones safe — so get out there and do it, and don't feel bad about it. We're rooting for you.