How should seniors assess coronavirus risks right now?

For most people, 2020 hasn’t gone as expected. The COVID-19 pandemic has changed our day-to-day plans, and for many it has also changed other plans, such as vacations and other travel. Early in the pandemic, it seemed simple: Stay home, and only go out for necessities. However, now that states have begun to ease restrictions (and put them back in place as necessary) it’s also harder to gauge risk. 

So how do you assess the risk?

While people over 65 are at no higher for contracting the coronavirus, it does have worse side effects on older people. As we get older, our immune systems get weaker, meaning it’s harder to bounce back from an infection. Older people are also more likely to have one of the underlying conditions that increase risk of hospitalization and severity of illness.

Dr. Nathaniel Hupert, a co-director at the Institute for Disease and Disaster Preparedness at Weill Cornell Medicine, advises basing what you do on where you are. For example, it is safer to decide on less restrictive behavior in states where cases are decreasing. If cases are increasing in your area, it’s extra important to take measures to avoid getting sick. 

Because of health and other factors, there’s no cut-and-dry ruling on what it’s safe to go outside and do. However, here are some things to take into consideration when you’re trying to make plans.

Where will your plans take place? Outdoor activities seem to be safer than indoor ones. However, with hot summer temperatures, it isn’t always possible to safely socialize outside. If you have to move your gatherings indoors, consider cracking open a door or window. 

Are you up-to-date on vaccines? Vaccines don’t just protect you against the illnesses for which they’re intended. They also seem to boost immune responses generally.

Are there set ground rules for wherever you’re going? This doesn’t just apply to restaurants. If you’ve been invited to a party or other event, call ahead to ask the host what precautions they’re taking. Will the event be outdoors? Is enough room to social distance? Will attendees wear masks? This way you won’t have to feel uncomfortable or unsafe upon arriving.

Other strategies include taking advantage of “senior hours,” which some stores hold early in the day. This gives older adults time to shop when the store is less crowded and still clean. If you, like many of us, are in dire need of a haircut, you can also try booking the first appointment of the day, and separately ensure the salon is taking protective measures.

Of course, the standard precautions still apply. Just because case rates may be lower in some places doesn’t mean it’s okay to stop protecting yourself. It’s still important to wear a mask in public, keep a distance of at least 6 feet, avoid crowds, and wash your hands.

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