Coronavirus precautions for patients, others facing higher risks

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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.

The American Heart Association is advising caution and preparation for elderly people with coronary heart disease or hypertension because it appears they may be more likely than others to be infected by the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and to develop more severe symptoms. Others with heart disease are also among those facing a higher risk of complications from COVID-19, and people who have survived a stroke may face a higher risk of complications.

As a result, people who have heart disease or another underlying condition should stay home to limit their risk of contracting the virus.

The overall risk of getting this virus is still low for most people in the United States, but the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention says the risk is expected to increase. The CDC has confirmed 330,891 U.S. cases and 8,910 deaths as of Sunday, and the situation is rapidly evolving. Over 1.1 million people worldwide have the coronavirus – with the U.S. now recording more cases than any other country, according to the latest data – and over 62,000 globally have died, the World Health Organization reported Sunday.

For most patients with heart disease, prevention is key. Your risk is not higher for getting COVID-19 as a patient, but if you do get it you have a higher chance of complications. Others facing this higher risk include people 60 and over, pregnant women, young children, people with diabetes, those with serious chronic lung and kidney conditions, and people with compromised immune systems. As mentioned, stroke survivors may also have a higher risk of complications.

The first cautionary step is to remember the basics in your everyday activities: Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, cover coughs and sneezes with a tissue and then throw the tissue away – or cough or sneeze into your long sleeve at the elbow fold – stay home from work if you’re sick or at increased risk, avoid touching surfaces in public, try not to touch your face, and avoid people who seem visibly sick. Also practice social distancing when in public or in any gatherings: Try to maintain a 6-foot perimeter around you.

The CDC also now recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public places such as grocery stores and pharmacies. That’s because recent studies indicate even people who aren’t showing symptoms could spread the virus through close speaking, coughing or sneezing. Face coverings are a way to protect yourself and everyone else. And it’s important to remember that face coverings work in addition to other social-distancing measures, not instead of them. You can learn how to easily make a cloth face covering in this video featuring Dr. Jerome Adams, the U.S. surgeon general.

If there is an active virus in your area, consider totally avoiding crowded places or situations. If there isn’t an active virus near you, factor in your personal health status when considering whether to go someplace where there are many people.

On March 16 the White House announced a program called “15 Days to Slow the Spread,” which is a nationwide effort to slow the spread of COVID-19 through the implementation of social distancing throughout society. It recommends avoiding social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.

Get prepared at home
Think about how you would manage your condition if for some reason you were advised to stay home for an extended time because of coronavirus. These tips can help you prepare for such a situation:

  • Make sure you can reach your doctor quickly. Gather contact information for your health care providers and store in an easy-to-locate place. Get office phone numbers, emergency numbers and email addresses. And check to see whether electronic consulting or instant messaging options are available.
  • If you live alone, gather a list of support contacts who you might call on if needed, such as friends, relatives, colleagues and neighbors. Keep this contact information all together in one easy-to-find place as well.
  • 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.
  • Take stock of food, beverage and hygiene supplies for yourself, your family and your pets.

If unusual circumstances are adding to your stress level, you can take steps to decompress and get a handle on your anxiety. Try our tips and techniques to help you feel calmer and more centered in trying times.

More Tips to Keep Calm

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Steering clear of crowds? Stock up on healthy, affordable staples. (Always compare nutrition labels and choose options with the least amount of added salt and sugar.)

Here are some suggestions:

  • Canned, frozen and dried fruits and vegetables
  • Canned fish and meats like light tuna or white-meat chicken packed in water
  • Frozen chicken breasts (they’re safe for up to a year when stored airtight in a freezer set to zero degrees or below)  
  • Dried or canned beans and legumes
  • Whole grains like oats, brown rice and quinoa 
  • Dried herbs and spices

Remember: Shelled eggs are safe for 3-5 weeks, and unopened egg substitute is safe for up to a year in the refrigerator.

More Staples

Find tasty dishes you can make with shelf-stable ingredients on our Recipe site.

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If you’re not usually a homebody, being at home more can be challenging for you and your family. Try to avoid the temptation to overdo the screen time.

Here are some more simple tips for fitness activities that almost anyone can do. Choose the ones that work for your circumstances and comfort level.

Fitness fans who are avoiding a crowded gym or popular exercise class can create a great at-home circuit workout.

Feel the Burn with a home circuit workout.

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If you have a chronic condition, talk to your health care provider and be extra vigilant about safety and cleanliness.

Here’s more information on precautions patients can take

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daughter kissing fathers forehead at home

What if you have symptoms of coronavirus?

Common symptoms include fever and cough. Contact your health care provider if you have these symptoms. If you experience shortness of breath or other heart attack or stroke warning signs, call 911.

If health experts are investigating you as someone with a possible case, or if you are confirmed to have coronavirus but are 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.

If you have any questions or concerns, contact your health care provider or consult the CDC’s website.

Microscopic image of COVID-19. (Hannah A. Bullock, Azaibi Tamin/CDC)
Microscopic image of COVID-19. (CDC/Hannah A. Bullock, Azaibi Tamin)