AARP held a very helpful tele-townhall today with federal health officials. I listened and here are my notes hitting some of the high points that were said during the call that I think are helpful to family caregivers who are concerned about keeping their loved ones and themselves safe and healthy.
Let me know if you have any questions and I’ll try to get you answers.
* Over next couple of years many Americans will be in contact with this virus, but based on information from the China outbreak, 15 - 20% of those who get it will develop into a worse illness.
* So far evidence is that older adults (over age 65) are at higher risk of developing a worse illness from the virus, and those at highest risk are the MOST VULNERABLE - for example, those age 80+ and those with heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, weakened immune system.
* The incubation period is 14 days.
* This virus is primarily spread person to person - generally if in close contact with another person within 6 feet - and spread by respiratory droplets when people cough or sneeze. The droplets land on your nose, mouth, eyes, hands etc. Even if it doesn’t land on your face, we touch our faces numerous times. It may also be possible to get it by touching a surface where droplets have fallen (thus the importance of frequent hand washing and avoiding touching your face.)
* There is no vaccine now (will take a year or 18 months) and no medications to treat Coronavirus - which may sound scary but we can do a lot to prevent getting it.
* They announced there will be no consumer cost share for Coronavirus testing for Medicare OR private insurance.
WHAT TO DO:
* Question: How do you figure out if you have the flu or Coronavirus? Viral respiratory infections have many similar symptoms and no good way to distinguish between flu and Coronavirus - that’s why they suggest to err on the side of caution. They are most worried about people who have fever, shortness of breath, cough etc. Call your doctor if you think you may have the virus or need clarification about how you are feeling.
* This will not go on forever, but for now, it’s a good idea to think about prevention:
* Right now, unless you are in the most vulnerable highest risk category there is no reason not to go out in the community and live your normal life, i.e. shopping, going to restaurants etc. If that changes your local community will tell you.
* Avoid close contact with someone who is sick
* Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth - VERY important to try not to do that (and also very hard to be aware of!)
* Clean and disinfect frequently touched surfaces - door handles, etc using a regular household spray or wipe.
* Wash your hands 20 seconds with soap and water frequently. (Personal note - Singing two rounds of Happy Birthday or one ABC song helps!)
* You can use a hand sanitizer with high % of alcohol.
For people in the highest risk, MOST VULNERABLE CATEGORY (for example, 80+, heart disease, lung disease, diabetes, weakened immune system):
* Avoid cruise ship travel and plane trips, crowds etc.
* If you become sick and must be around someone who is vulnerable, wear a mask, but the people who need the masks primarily are health care workers who can’t avoid being around people who are sick (Personal note - in my view this includes family caregivers if you must care for someone who is actively sick).
* If you have a regular medical appt scheduled, talk with the doctor, tell them about your overall health condition and level of vulnerability and ask if a tele-health appt would be better.
* If you have surgery scheduled, talk with your doctor to ensure it’s still a good idea in your area. Your doctor doesn’t want you to get sick either. In places where the outbreaks are the worst, they are having blood shortages because people don’t want to congregate at blood donation places to give blood. So that could be a factor as well.
FAMILY CAREGIVERS - If you are caring for someone in the most vulnerable category:
* Help them ensure they have a two-week supply of medications, medical supplies, household items, food etc. in case there is an outbreak in their community and they need to stay home or if you/they self-quarantine because of direct exposure to someone who has it. A mail order medication delivery plan would work also, and many local pharmacies deliver now also.
* Also think about a plan for backup care if you or your loved one gets it, or if a paid caregiver gets it (this is the hardest part, I know).
* If you are concerned about taking a loved one out to the doctor’s office, one option is telehealth - Find out if you can call your doctor, Skype, send photos etc. Doctors can bill for that under Medicare.
If your loved one is in NURSING FACILITY:
* Communicate with the administrators and go over exactly what they are doing to protect the vulnerable residents - what are the policies and procedures in place and how are they being implemented.
* There are guidelines for facilities on the CDC website.
* Don’t be afraid to ask what the facility is doing in terms of prevention; there is nothing wrong with asking and advocating for your loved ones.
* Ask what the plan would be if someone in the facility does get ill with the Coronavirus.
* Federal surveyors are going to nursing homes and hospitals to check things out and ensure that they are taking adequate precautions.
Advice for people who WORK IN NURSING FACILITIES, memory care facilities etc.
* Most important thing is to do everything you can not to bring illness into the facility
* Make sure that people don’t come to work sick and visitors don’t come sick (some facilities are limiting visitor hours or saying no visitors at all - that is up to the individual facility at this point.)
* Follow the hygiene recommendations - wash hands etc.
GOING OUT IN THE COMMUNITY - Listeners asked should we go out to eat or go to faith community services? Again, it depends on your level of vulnerability and what is happening in your community.
* Some faith communities are offering online services so people can still attend if not in person. Some are bumping elbows instead of giving hugs.
* Stay up on what’s happening in your own community - if there is local spread - so you know right away.
The speakers for the tele-townhall included Dr. Brett Giroir, Assistant Secretary for Health at the U.S. Department of Health & Human Services; Dr. Nancy Messonnier, Director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases; and Seema Verma, Administrator at the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services.
AARP has lots of additional helpful information at AARP.org/coronavirus - you can listen to the entire recording of the hour-long tele-townhall there also to hear first-hand what was said!
The government is also providing updated information at www.CDC.gov/Coronavirus