COVID-19: Over 60? Listen Up.

Note: While we take every effort to keep our statistics current, the fast-moving nature of this pandemic makes it difficult to stay on top of the numbers and locations of infections and mortality rates. 

If you’re over 60, the facts are clear: you are at higher risk for developing the coronavirus infection causing COVID-19. As of March 12, 1,215 people in the U.S. are infected and 36 have died, according to the CDC.

Globally the World Health Organization reports more than 125,000 cases in 118 countries have been infected; as of March 12, more than 4,600 have died from it.

While experts predict that 80% of people who get COVID-19 will have mild illness and recover, with the other 20% having more serious illness, older adults should pay special attention to prevention. That’s because experts now know that risk of a serious infection increases with age. If an older adult also has an underlying disease—such as diabetes, heart or lung disease—the risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19 is even higher.

What’s “Older?”

So what’s ”older” in this case?  In general, an elevated risk begins at age 60, said Nancy Messonnier, MD, director of the CDC National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases, at a press briefing March 9. The highest risk of serious illness and death is in those over age 80, she said. Age plus an underlying condition (diabetes, heart or lung disease) raises risk.

What to do? Stay up to date on the latest information about the virus and practice preventive strategies.

Coronavirus Info

Information is evolving and fluid on this new virus; after exposure the incubation period is from 2 to 14 days, typically; with 5 days about average. Fever, cough and shortness of breath are common symptoms.

The virus is spread by close contact or by contact with respiratory droplets (from coughs, sneezes). Touching an object with the virus on it, then touching one’s mouth or nose, may make someone ill, but is not thought to be the main transmission route, the CDC says. 

Even so, German researchers recently analyzed published studies of other coronaviruses (such as Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome or SARS) and found that they can live on surfaces like metal, glass or plastic for up to 9 days, although in some cases the virus lasted as little as 2 hours—and the viruses studied could be inactivated by disinfection within a minute. (For disinfection, use solutions of  about 70% ethanol, found in hand sanitizers, or a diluted bleach solution, with about 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of water.)

Preventive Strategies

Older adults ”have to be more mindful of avoiding exposure to [the coronavirus],” says Amesh Adalja, MD, senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security. That may translate, he says, to skipping large public gatherings, sporting events and conventions. “It’s not ironclad,” he says of that recommendation. “You have to consider your own risk. There are healthy and not healthy 60-year-olds.” 

Avoiding Community spread

Assess not only your personal risk but the situation in your community to get a realistic perception, Dr. Adalja says. “We know it is spreading in communities. It really is something you can catch in the U.S.”  No longer is it only happening after people have contact with travelers from China or other affected countries. Check your local department of health webpage for updates.

Stay away from anyone with respiratory illnesses, including your grandchildren, says Aaron Glatt, MD, an infectious disease specialist at Mt. Sinai South Nassau, New York. 

Other tips from these public health experts and the CDC:

  • Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
  • Keep a ”social distance” of 6 feet from people you don’t know when out in public—not easy.
  • Wash your hands often, for at least 20 seconds, using soap and water. Wash after being out in public, after a cough or sneeze or nose blowing and before eating. 
  • If you don’t have access to soap and water, use hand sanitizer—if you were smart enough to stock up before the shelves emptied.
  • Give up hand shaking; offer an elbow bump or a simple hello.
  • Take clean tissues with you before going out in public; use them to open doors, place on handrails and push elevator buttons. 
  • Avoid touching your face—a hard habit to break.
  • Clean and disinfect your home often—clean tables, light switches, toilets, sinks, faucets, doorknobs, your phone, your touch screens.
  • Stock up on enough food and water and other supplies to sit out a potential quarantine (when those exposed are asked to stay home for 14 days to see if they become sick) or isolation (when people are diagnosed with COVID-19). Have adequate supplies of medicines you need for blood pressure, high cholesterol, diabetes and other conditions and stock over-the-counter fever reducers. 
  • Get your flu shot if you haven’t already. 

What not to do? Buy and hoard masks. “I would ask people to please fight your urge to buy a mask,” Messonnier said. It’s important to save them for  health care workers on the front lines who truly need them. Bottom line: be careful and clean and stay informed, but don’t let fear paralyze you.

Hearing about the COVID19 spread on a daily basis is understandably anxiety-producing. Tell us what you are doing to cope.


How has the virus changed your routine?


This article offered by Senior Planet and Older Adults Technology Services is for informational purposes only and is not intended to substitute for professional medical advice, diagnosis, or treatment. Always seek the advice of your physician or other qualified health provider with any questions you may have regarding any medical condition. If you think you may have a medical emergency, call your doctor or 911 immediately.  


19 responses to “COVID-19: Over 60? Listen Up.

    1. Good point, Judy. Thanks. Elbow-bumping isn’t a good idea either, because one never knows who/what they’ll come in contact with. Not withstanding that someone could’ve either touched a button with their elbow or sneezed and/or coughed into it, a person doesn’t have to be symptomatic to be infected with the Covid-19 virus, either.

  1. We must collectively stay positive. Kleenex and plastic gloves for door handles and baskets sound great if you have to go shopping. My anxiety goes up and down but surprisingly stays down. I have been baking bread which quiets my mind and gives me something creative to do. I like to paint so that is next on the list. I have the same question as the nurse; why are so many people clamoring for water? Let’s all be calm and pray and stay uplifted. Herbal tea helped me last night. Chamomile particularly.

    1. As crazy as this may sound, I’ve been having my groceries delivered to me. Since I live in a large apartment complex, I instruct the shopper(s) to dial a special number on the intercom panel on their right as they enter the front vestibule of our building, buzz them in using a special number on my landline phone, and instruct them to loudly knock on my door, and then leave the groceries right outside the door, and then get them myself. If I’m not around, I have them leave the groceries in the front vestibule of our building, with my name on them. That’s been very helpful.

  2. Comforting, common sense comments.
    Listen to the news, but take a break. I am resorting to classical music. Helps with dealing with anxiety.
    We need to control our proactive tendencies insofar as allowing fear to overtake rational decisions
    Best of luck to everyone

  3. Stock up – yeah, if you can. Clean tissues? If you have them. You cannot buy them anymore.
    Walmart last night was a lot of middle aged and younger people, some older, getting what they needed and finding that much of it wasnt there. And the workers hurrying to stock the shelves are often “older”.
    Right now in my state, Florida, we have a lot of elderly people. Many are doing what they can to stay safe. But it isnt entirely possible when you have to take care of yourself. 163 confirmed cases in the state as of today. I predict the panic will become more widespread if that number starts to go up exponentially.
    My 35 year old son in NJ has started to give the Mr Spock Vulcan “live long and prosper” sign instead of shaking hands. Staying indoors, no sports, streaming videos, – nerds rule! Now that CUNY finally figured out how to make it happen, he is working at home. He said Gov Cuomo only gave CUNY 2 hours advance notice of his press conference where he announced all classes would be online – saying “make it happen”. My son is one of those who had to go in to his office in Brooklyn to “make it happen”. Now he’s home.
    This is going to get worse since people cannot remain locked down without serious consequences to their health and the economy. Meantime, be kind to the retail workers, they are especially at risk and doing their best.

  4. What the heck does this mean? Please translate the following into something that is understandable and usable!!
    (For disinfection, use solutions of about 70% ethanol, found in hand sanitizers, or .50.1% sodium hypochlorite, or bleach.)

    1. I’d also like to know. Regarding bleach, is that 50.1% bleach, 0.501%, or something else. I think common bleach bought in stores is about 5.0% sodium hypochlorite, so maybe you mean straight bleach right out of the container?
      Other than that, very informative article, Janet. Thank you

      1. Hi Hal and Jim! Thank you for your question, we fixed the article to be more clear. The CDC recommends “diluted bleach solution, with about 1/3 cup of bleach per gallon of water.” Have a good day!

    1. Fist bumps aren’t such a good idea either, during the Covid-19 virus. This virus is far too deadly and too contagious to take chances on, especially because lots of people are also infected with the Covid-19 virus without being symptomatic.

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