It’s been a busy few days for the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC). Not only has the health organization revealed that COVID-19 cases in America could be ten times higher than originally thought, thanks to estimates from a national antibody test, it has also updated its list of who is most at risk of severe COVID-19 illness, and who might be at increased risk.
In a press conference on Thursday June 25, CDC experts explained that the coronavirus at-risk list has been expanded following a thorough review of available evidence to date. The CDC says it’s now becoming clear that, ‘a substantial number of Americans are at increased risk of severe illness – highlighting the importance of continuing to follow preventive measures.’
Severe illness from COVID-19 is defined as hospitalization, admission to the ICU, intubation or mechanical ventilation, or death. Older adults still remain at risk, with the updated CDC list of who is at increased risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19 now including:
- Any person of any age with an underlying medical condition
- Any person of any age who is obese (BMI of 30+)
- Medically complex children
- People with chronic kidney disease, or COPD
- People with a weakened immune system from solid organ transplant
- Any person with a serious heart condition
- People with Sickle Cell Disease
- Those with Type 2 diabetes
The CDC also revealed a list of people who may be at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19, including:
- People who are pregnant
- People with asthma
- People with Type 1 diabetes
- People with any of these further conditions
At the press conference, CDC Director Robert Redfield MD said: “Understanding who is most at risk for severe illness helps people make the best decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities. While we are all at risk for COVID-19, we need to be aware of who is susceptible to severe complications so that we take appropriate measures to protect their health and well-being.”
Assessing the coronavirus risk to you
The CDC has published evidence to back these updates. The research is based on published health reports, press articles, pre-prints yet to be peer-reviewed, and internal CDC data collected between December 1, 2019 and May 29 of this year. It’s important to note that this information may change as health officials learn more about COVID-19 - the coronavirus is fast-moving and science is racing to keep up.
Some of those new additions to the two CDC coronavirus risk lists may be a surprise to you, so let’s break them down a little further.
Underlying medical conditions
This is now the broadest category and covers a group of major medical conditions. You are considered at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 if you have chronic kidney disease, COPD, an immunocompromised state, have a serious heart condition, Sickle Cell Disease or Type 2 diabetes.
Obesity is now included in this category, and is defined by the CDC as a BMI of 30 or higher. If this includes you, the official health guidance is to follow your doctor’s recommendations for medication, nutrition and exercise, and to maintain social distancing. Walking is a fantastic way to lose weight and de-stress, with each step adding up to increased wellness. Consider using one of the best fitness trackers to prompt you to move a little more each day.
Also attached to this category are children considered medically complex. This means that children with neurologic, genetic or metabolic conditions, or who have congenital heart disease, are at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19 than other children.
CDC advice changes as more research becomes available, and the intention is to empower people, not to scare. After all, pregnancy can be an already overwhelming time for some especially during a pandemic. Based on what the CDC knows as of today, pregnant people might be at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant people. There may be an increased risk of preterm birth too.
CDC coronavirus and pregnancy guidelines encourage people to continue their prenatal appointments, to keep at least a 30-day supply of prescribed medications, and to stay in touch with healthcare providers to learn how to stay well during the pandemic. If you need coverage for ongoing medication costs, take a look at our guide to the best Medicare Part D plans.
Type 2 diabetes puts you at increased risk, while Type 1 diabetes might put you at increased risk. If you have Type 2 diabetes, CDC advice is to continue taking your pills and insulin, test your blood sugar and monitor your results, and ensure you have at least a 30-day supply of meds. If you don’t yet own a blood sugar monitor, we’ve reviewed the best glucose meters for taking accurate readings.
Data now suggests that being a current or former smoker may increase your risk of severe illness from COVID-19. The World Health Organization has produced an extensive Q&A on smoking and the coronavirus, and how it increases your risk - smoking reduces lung capacity and increases the severity of respiratory diseases. If you currently smoke, now is the time to quit. For helping quitting, visit smokefree.gov.
How to protect yourself if you're at increased risk
Every activity that involves contact with others has a degree of risk attached to it right now, especially with confirmed cases of COVID-19 spiking in several states across the US. Last week, the CDC updated its coronavirus guidelines to help us all stay as safe as possible while enjoying summer. The main take-away from the updated social guidelines is to think about where you’re going and what you’ll be doing.
If you can, stick to outdoor activities where social distancing is easier to maintain. If you must attend an indoor event or work in an indoor space (where there’s less ventilation), wear a homemade face mask if you are healthy and aged under 60. WHO advised medical masks for over 60s now. Don’t own a fabric face covering? This is where to buy reusable face masks.
In addition to wearing a mask, the CDC advises all persons to carry hand sanitizer (at least 60% alcohol based) and tissues. Use the hand sanitizer immediately after touching any item handed to you by a person outside of your household, and cough and sneeze into a tissue then dispose of it in a bin.
Scientists reveal the two most common coronavirus symptoms to date
In the press conference on Thursday 25 June, CDC Director Robert Redfield acknowledged that the number of Americans who had been infected with the novel coronavirus could be 10 times higher than the official count.
"Our best estimate right now is that for every case that's reported, there actually are 10 other infections," he told reporters. This new estimate is based on growing data from nationwide antibody testing, which picks up the presence of immune cells that react to SARS-CoV-2, the virus behind COVID-19. If a person has been infected, they test positive for antibodies regardless of whether they got sick or had symptoms (asymptomatic).
According to a study published this week in the online medical journal PLos ONE, the most common symptoms associated with COVID-19 are fever (78%) and a persistent cough (57%). It’s one of the biggest studies to date on COVID-19 symptoms, and involved researchers comparing data from 148 separate studies covering 24,000 patients from nine countries, including the United States, the UK and China.
Fever can be caused by other health conditions, as can a cough, so it’s important to monitor symptoms without panicking. When it comes to coronavirus symptoms versus seasonal allergies, a fever is a defining difference - seasonal allergies do not cause fever. For accurate temperature monitoring, use one of the best digital thermometers.
We recently asked a doctor to answer a series of common coronavirus questions, including how to treat COVID-19 at home. Dr Gero Baiarda told us: “If you have mild symptoms, treat yourself symptomatically, and I would suggest using primarily paracetamol for your fever symptoms, or if you are suffering from aches and chills.”
The CDC has produced guidelines on how to look after yourself when sick and, crucially, how to recognize the signs that mean you need urgent medical assistance.
Remember, if you have symptoms indicative of COVID-19:
- Stay at home except to get medical help
- Rest, stay hydrated and use over the counter medicines
- Stay in touch with your doctor
- Wear a medical mask to protect others in your home
- Avoid public transport
- Separate yourself from others as much as possible
- Monitor your symptoms for any changes
- Look for emergency warning signs for COVID-19 and call 911 for urgent medical care