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As the Coronavirus (COVID-19) outbreak sweeps across the U.S., many seniors and their caregivers are dealing with serious concerns, especially considering how many older people have succumbed to the disease. Is there a way to protect oneself from the virus? Are certain people at higher risk than others? How do we keep safe in such an uncertain time? Knowledge is power, so we’ve compiled the following set of frequently asked questions to help you stay informed.

How Does COVID-19 Spread?

According to both the CDC and the World Health Organization (WHO), COVID-19 primarily spreads person-to-person through “respiratory droplets” sent into the air when an infected person coughs, sneezes, or exhales, and another person takes those droplets in through the nose or mouth. The disease may also be spread by touching surfaces where respiratory droplets have landed, then touching one’s face—similarly to how the common cold spreads, though much more severe and dangerous than a cold.

Can People Who Aren’t Sick Spread the Disease?

Given the amount of community spread, there is evidence that people may be infected with COVID-19 without showing any symptoms, and those people may carry it to others.

What Is the Best Way to Protect Oneself from Getting COVID-19?

The current guidance recommends doing the following to protect yourself:

  • Wash hands frequently, scrubbing them with soap and warm water for at least 20 seconds.
  • Avoid touching your face. (Wash your face thoroughly if you do.)
  • Practice “social distancing”—keep a distance of at least 6 feet from other people, especially if you suspect they may be infected, to prevent inhaling respiratory droplets.
  • Obey local guidance about avoiding gatherings and staying at home.

Am I More Susceptible to the Disease if I am Older?

There’s no evidence to suggest COVID-19 is more contagious for the elderly than for anyone else. However, people over age 65 or with pre-existing health conditions (e.g., heart or lung disease) have a higher rate of complications and serious or fatal symptoms from the disease. If you are elderly, you should take the guidance all the more seriously.

Am I Truly Safe from the Disease by Self-Quarantining in My Home?

Currently, “home” is considered one of the safest places you can be. People who are aging-in-place at home are less likely to contract the disease than those in assisted living because they are not in as frequent close contact with others, and they have more control over their environment.

Is It Safe for My Caregiver to Visit Me in My Home?

Healthcare workers are trained to take every precaution before coming in contact with people under their care. As long as your caregiver takes these precautions—including self-quarantining if they have been exposed—the risk to you is low. If you have any concerns, be sure to ask your healthcare worker what he/she is doing to protect against COVID-19. If you have family members caring for you, make sure they follow all the guidelines. You also have the right to refuse entrance to anyone in your home whom you deem to be unsafe.

Coronavirus is a scary disease, especially for the aging—but it is not unavoidable, nor is it an automatic death sentence. As seniors and caregivers pay attention and take the necessary precautions, they can keep one another safe until this threat passes.