Who Is Most at Risk for COVID-19?

People from all walks of life get COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus, but some may have greater chances of catching it. A lot depends on the kind of work you do, the conditions you live in, and whether you have other health problems.

Groups at Higher Risk of COVID-19

Essential workers. Not everyone is able to strictly observe the "stay-at-home" rules that public officials have suggested. Doctors, nurses, nursing home workers, and home health aides are in the front lines of the fight against COVID-19. Grocery store employees, mail carriers, bus drivers, and others also have important jobs that can't be done at home. The kind of work they do means they need to interact with others outside their homes, which puts them at higher risk of infection.

If you work at a health care facility, you will need personal protective equipment (PPE) that may include some combination of gloves, gown, face mask, eye protection, and a face shield.

If you work in a medium-risk place like a retail store, wear a face mask, and ask your employer about safety precautions like installing physical barriers such as plastic sneeze guards.

When you are at work, try to keep at least 6 feet away from customers and other workers, and wash your hands often with soap and water or use a hand sanitizer that has at least 60% alcohol. Don't use co-workers' phones, desks, or other work tools.

People with disabilities. If you need assistance from home health aides, you may face higher chances of coming into contact with someone who might spread the coronavirus. Ask people who come into your home to wash their hands before and after they touch you, change your linens, or do laundry.

Also make sure that frequently touched objects in your house, including doorknobs, faucets, phones, wheelchairs, or walkers, get disinfected several times a day.

Racial and ethnic minorities. The CDC says African-American and Hispanic people are more likely to need to go the hospital for COVID-19 and are more likely to die from the disease.

Researchers say a variety of things are behind these trends, including less access to health care and lack of health care insurance. The CDC also says African-American people have higher rates of chronic conditions than white people.

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According to the CDC, a higher percentage of people in minority groups may work in places such as health care facilities or grocery stores, where they are more likely to be exposed to COVID-19. If you work at a high or moderate-risk job, take protective precautions like face masks and frequent handwashing. Practice social distancing as much as possible.

Homeless people. People living on the street or in shelters for the homeless may find themselves in close contact with people who might be infected with COVID-19.

The CDC says local authorities should encourage people who are living in encampments to spread out their sleeping spaces so they aren't near others. The CDC also recommends that public health officials find ways to temporarily isolate homeless people who they suspect have COVID-19.

Risk Factors for Complications of COVID-19

If you catch COVID-19, you have a greater chance of getting severe complications if you're older or have another health problem.

Age. Eighty percent of deaths from COVID-19 have been in people 65 and older. About 30% to 60% of people between 65 and 84 with COVID-19 end up in the hospital, and 10%-30% need intensive care.

There are a few reasons for this:

  • Older adults are more likely to have long-term health problems like high blood pressure or type 2 diabetes.
  • Your immune system -- your body's defense against germs -- weakens with age.
  • As you age, changes to your lung tissue can make it harder to heal from COVID-19.

Heart disease . About 10% of people with COVID-19 who also had heart disease died from it, according to research from the initial outbreak in Wuhan, China. People with high blood pressure had a death rate of 6%.

Lung disease . If you have a long-term lung condition like chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), you may already have lung damage that can make the effects of COVID-19 worse.

Diabetes . Both type 1 and type 2 diabetes can raise your blood sugar levels. If your diabetes is not well controlled, a high blood sugar level can allow viruses to thrive. It also weakens your immune system.

Compromised immune system. This includes people who are getting cancer treatment, have HIV, or take medications that weaken the immune system, like steroids. This makes your body less able to fight viruses like COVID-19.

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What to Do if You're at Higher Risk for COVID-19

If you're considered high risk, the CDC recommends you stay home as much as you can. If you do need to go out, wash your hands often and make sure you stay 6 feet away from others, or about two arm lengths. You should also wear a cloth covering over your mouth and nose.

You should also make sure you take all your regular medications. That way, if you do get sick with COVID-19, your long-term medical conditions will be under better control.

Talk to your doctor and ask if you are up to date with your vaccines, including pneumonia vaccines if you're over 65.

You should always have at least a 2-week supply of prescription and over-the-counter medicines on hand. Talk to your doctor or pharmacist about getting an extra 90-day supply, or use a mail order service so you can avoid trips to the drugstore. Also keep several weeks of groceries and other household supplies at home to limit outings.

It's important to clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces in your home every day to stop the spread of the virus from person to person.

WebMD Medical Reference Reviewed by Arefa Cassoobhoy, MD, MPH on April 27, 2020

Sources

SOURCES:

CDC: Coronavirus 2019: "People Experiencing Homelessness," "COVID-19 in Racial and Ethnic Minority Groups," "How to Protect Yourself & Others," "People with Disabilities," "Older Adults," "Groups at Higher Risk for Severe Illness," "What You Can Do," "Cloth Face Coverings: Questions & Answers," "Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) Checklist: Older Persons."

Occupational Safety and Health Administration: "Guidelines on Preparing Workplaces for COVID-19."

National Foundation for Infectious Diseases: "Common Questions and Answers About COVID-19 for Older Adults and People with Chronic Health Conditions."

American Heart Association: "What people with high blood pressure need to know about COVID-19."

Johns Hopkins Medicine: "Coronavirus and COVID-19: Who is at higher risk?"

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