COVID-19: Steps to Protect New Hampshire’s Elderly
“Coronavirus” – it’s a term all over newspapers, television, social media and basically everywhere you turn. Hearing the word and the constant chatter around it can (understandably) cause concern and angst. Any epidemic, especially one that continues to evolve with many unknowns, is not worth taking lightly. Staying informed, being proactive and remaining diligent is key.
This is especially important for the elderly across the state, a population carrying a higher risk of serious illness should they contract the virus, due to age and common underlying conditions. It is important to talk about potential steps to safeguard your elderly family members and neighbors in particular.
First, let’s share some background information on coronavirus, or as it’s more formally called, COVID-19.
What is COVID-19?
COVID-19, also known as the Coronavirus 2019, is an infectious respiratory illness caused by the novel coronavirus that was first identified during an outbreak in Wuhan, China, this past December. Less than three months later, there are more than 139,000 cases globally across every continent except Antarctica, and more than 1,200 confirmed cases across 42 states and the District of Columbia.
While we still don’t have a full picture of what it is, how it exactly originated and how it can effectively be treated, we believe that COVID-19 is a virus that can spread from person-to-person through respiratory droplets when an infected individual coughs or sneezes.
Symptoms of COVID-19 may include, fever, respiratory issues, runny nose, cough and difficulty breathing, and appear anywhere from 2-14 days after exposure. The vast majority of COVID-19 cases result in only mild symptoms. A small percentage can lead to severe illness, and sometimes death.
Individuals with overall good health generally have a stronger prognosis and should expect to fully recover. The level of severity can be greater for those with underlying comorbid conditions such as cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer and high blood pressure. The elderly, as seen in a recent outbreak at a skilled nursing facility in Washington state, can be at higher risk of complications.
Safeguarding Seniors & Elderly from COVID-19
So, how can we not only protect ourselves but more importantly, our elderly family and community members? Below are some tips leveraged from proactive steps we’re taking at our skilled nursing facilities statewide. While they don’t completely eliminate the possibility of infection, they can be highly effective in reducing the risk for seniors, not only for COVID-19 but other forms of infectious disease such as influenzas.
- Don’t panic. While the number of cases have increased over the past few days, the overall risk of contraction in New Hampshire remains low. While you don’t want to downplay the potential severity of the situation, you don’t want to cause alarm or panic. Be honest and clear that the overall threat level is still low, but it is important to help them be cognizant and aware. Help them stay calm.
- Educate them. You may be the best resource for elderly family members or neighbors when it comes to COVID-19. Talk with them about the virus, including the warning signs and what we know/don’t know yet (feel free to use the information above!). Give them a chance to ask questions and voice their concerns. If you cannot provide any answers, consult invaluable resources like Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) or the New Hampshire Department of Health and Human Services. They are continually updating their websites with key information.
- Create a plan. Encourage them to contact their healthcare professional immediately if they have any concerns or exhibit any of the symptoms such as fever, runny noses and breathing difficulties. While we’re still understanding COVID-19, it should be taken very seriously. Consulting medical professionals at the onset of any symptoms not only ensures proper supportive care is received – but is also key to help prevent further outbreak.You may want to create a contact sheet for them in case symptoms arise. Include the phone number for their doctor’s office, the local hospital emergency room and at least one emergency contact (whether that’s you or an immediate family member). Make sure this information is easily accessible in at least a few parts of the home, including within close proximity to the telephone.
- Promote safe sanitation practices. Proper hygiene practices can be the best way to prevent the spread of illness and disease like COVID-19. Remind them of the following – or better yet, print these for them to hang in their homes:
- Wash and scrub hands for at least 20 seconds, every time before eating food, blowing your nose, coughing or sneezing, touching garbage, going to the bathroom, touching an animal or pet food, or any instances in which hands may be dirty.
- Rinse hands under clean, running water. Dry hands using a clean towel.
- If soap and water are not available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer that contains at least 60% alcohol. Note that sanitizers can reduce the number of germs, but not eliminate them entirely. Using soap is ideal.
- When coughing or sneezing, cover the mouth with a tissue and dispose of in a wastebasket (ideally a covered one) immediately after. If a tissue isn’t readily available, cough or sneeze into the upper sleeve (not hands).
- Avoid touching or shaking someone’s hands in community settings (church, social events, etc.)
- Avoid putting your hands on eyes, nose and mouth.
- Ensure they stock up on supplies. Offer to take them to the store – or volunteer to go yourself – to help them stock up on key hygiene items like soap, tissues, toilet paper, towels and Clorox wipes. You may also want to ensure they have extra medication, food or other essentials in case they need to be confined in their homes for longer periods of time.
- Be present. It sounds simple, but again, remember that you might be one of the best resources your elderly neighbors or family members may have when it comes to COVID-19. Make it a point to check in at least once a day, for the time being, asking them how they are feeling and whether they have any concerns. Be a sounding board. And continue to answer – or find the answers – to their questions. You may not know it, but you could be their first line of defense against any risk!
While we are unsure of the future implications for COVID-19, it’s sometimes best to prepare for the worst. Taking these steps will go a long way in protecting the elderly across our communities.
Catholic Charities New Hampshire provides a wide range of services and support for New Hampshire elderly and seniors, including short-term and long-term care options, rides to medical appointments and food delivery for homebound and disabled elderly, and other various forms of support enabling seniors to thrive in their homes and communities.