The Sick and Elderly: COVID-19’s Worst-affected Demographic

elder man getting vaccination shot

America’s first encounter with the coronavirus pandemic was less than a month after the World Health Organization (WHO) shed light on the virus’ existence. According to data from WHO, health authorities in China confirmed that a number of people in the Hubei Province capital, Wuhan, were being treated for pneumonia. At the time of confirmation by Chinese health authorities, the pneumonia came from an unknown source.

Who are affected?

It was only 20 days after the Chinese confirmation of an existing virus that the U.S. had its first brush with the now coronavirus (COVID-19) pandemic. After receiving media attention, the world found out about a highly contagious virus spreading at unrelenting speeds. Ten months into the pandemic, countries and almost all sectors are still struggling to keep themselves afloat after prolonged lockdowns that caused the world to come to a halt. Economies went into a pause, causing a myriad of problems.

The pandemic did not spare anyone. It affected and is still affecting the lives of people with complete disregard for age, race, gender, and health status. Both the healthy and the ill are mired in fear of contracting the deadly virus. But the demographic suffering the worst health impact brought about by the virus is the sick and elderly population. According to The New York Times database, 40 percent of COVID-19 deaths in America are linked to nursing homes.

A doctor discusses medical information with a teenage girl, who is wearing a head scarf, and her father

What makes the sick and elderly the heavily affected demographic?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found that in the U.S., eight out of 10 coronavirus-related reported deaths have been among American adults aged 65 and older. People from all age groups have chances of contracting the virus. Still, older adults and individuals with underlying medical conditions are more susceptible to suffering from a severe illness caused by COVID-19. Patients as such need immediate hospitalization, intensive care attention, and ventilators to help them breathe. The worst-case scenario is that these individuals may even succumb to the complications.

CDC has provided a list of medical conditions individuals may have that can increase the chances of them getting a severe illness from the virus behind COVID-19. A number of medical conditions on the list are not foreign to younger adults and even children. The American health protection agency has been consistent in reminding everyone—especially those at higher risk—to take extreme precautions to reduce the chances of contracting and subsequently spreading the fatal virus.

Why do nursing homes currently account for over 40 percent of U.S. virus deaths?

Nursing homes, with most of them providing care 24 hours a day, are susceptible to contagion. This can be caused by factors such as visitors going in and out of the care facilities and nurses and nursing aides being at risk due to contact outside of nursing units.

These facilities cater to providing medical care for older adults who need medical attention but do not need to stay in hospitals. They also need more care than their homes provide. Families can then decide to put their relatives inside these facilities to ensure that their needs will be attended to by professional hands. Additionally, nursing homes also take in younger people who need round-the-clock care and terminally ill patients under hospice care.

The demographic contained within nursing homes is at higher risk due to their age and underlying illnesses, as mentioned in the previous section. The recorded deaths and seven percent of coronavirus cases in the U.S. linked to these care facilities are attributed to the characteristics of people inside them.

Mitigating these numbers will depend on stringent contact tracing and isolation methods that will need top-of-the-line facilities and professional insights. Isolating the most vulnerable members of the population can be a great solution if coupled with close monitoring and consistent testing.

Can their situation be improved?

Pouring all efforts to save one demographic may seem unjust when viewed by individuals outside of it. According to data sourced by the Common Wealth Fund, America spends nearly twice as much as the average Organization for Economic Cooperation and Development (OECD) member country when it comes to health care.

Despite spending the most on health care, the country has the lowest life expectancy out of the OECD member countries. This can be seen through the U.S. topping the rest of the globe when it comes to the number of confirmed cases and reported deaths. Improving the health situation of people, even the ones outside nursing homes, should be a systematic initiative that will encompass all groups regardless of age and health condition.

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