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Coronavirus: Say no to long trips, crowds and cruise ships, top US health expert warns seniors

NIAID Director Anthony S Fauci says the risk of getting into trouble with this infection is overwhelmingly weighed towards people with underlying conditions and the elderly
UPDATED MAR 19, 2020
(AP Photo)
(AP Photo)

A top US health official has asked elderly Americans and particularly those who have underlying health conditions to think before taking a trip or a flight and completely avoid cruise ships. 

“The risk of getting into trouble with this infection, namely if you are infected, is overwhelmingly weighed towards people with underlying conditions and the elderly. That's the reason why if you are an elderly person with an underlying condition, if you get infected, the risk of getting into trouble is considerable,” Dr Anthony S Fauci, National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases (NIAID) Director, said during an interview to NBC News. 

He said it is the responsibility of Americans to protect the vulnerable, and saying no to large crowds, long trips, and cruise ships.

President Donald Trump listens to NIAID Director Anthony S Fauci as he tours the Viral Pathogenesis Laboratory at the National Institutes of Health on March 3, 2020 (AP Photo/Evan Vucci)

“I feel this way strongly, and this will be a recommendation. If you are a person with an underlying condition, and you are particularly an elderly person with an underlying condition, you need to think twice about getting on a plane, or a long trip. And not only think twice, just don't get on a cruise ship,” Dr Fauci said.

He added, “And when I say protect, I mean right now, not wait until things get worse.”

He explained that a vulnerable individual should avoid mass gathering because when there is a community spread, “you may not know at any given time that there are people who are infected.”

“If you are a vulnerable person, take it seriously,” Dr Fauci said. 

This is the sixth US President (Donald Trump) that Dr Fauci is advising. He started off advising the 40th US President Ronald Reagan in the very early years of the HIV/AIDs epidemic. 

Early information out of China, where COVID-19 first started in Wuhan, shows that the elderly and those with underlying medical conditions are at higher risk of getting very sick from this illness. 

“Individuals at the highest risk for severe disease and death include people aged over 60 years and those with underlying conditions such as hypertension, diabetes, cardiovascular disease, chronic respiratory disease, and cancer. Mortality increases with age, with the highest mortality among people over 80 years of age,” said the World Health Organization joint mission report.

The report recommended that countries should be prepared to actively support a response to COVID-19 in a variety of ways, including the adoption of more stringent ‘social distancing’ practices and helping the high-risk elderly population.

According to March 10 estimates, at least 754 people have been infected in the US with COVID-19 and 26 have died.

CDC guidelines 

The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, meanwhile, have issued specific guidelines for the elderly, asking them to avoid crowds as much as possible, avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.

The recommendations are for people who are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19. The CDC defines this higher risk category as older adults, and people who have serious chronic medical conditions like diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease.

“If you are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19 because of your age or because you have a serious long-term health problem, it is extra important for you to take action to reduce your risk of getting sick with the disease,” said the CDC.

“Avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces. Your risk of exposure to respiratory viruses like COVID-19 may increase in crowded, closed-in settings with little air circulation if there are people in the crowd who are sick. Avoid all non-essential travel, including plane trips, and especially avoid embarking on cruise ships,” the agency stated.

A woman wearing a mask wipes down an electronic device as she stands near the entrance of the Life Care Center in Kirkland, near Seattle. The nursing home is at the center of the outbreak of the COVID-19 coronavirus in Washington state  (AP Photo/Ted S. Warren)

The recommendations include stocking up on supplies and taking everyday precautions such as cleaning hands often and keeping space between themselves and others.

“When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often,” said the CDC.

During a COVID-19 outbreak in the community, the CDC recommends high-risk people to stay home as much as possible to further reduce their risk of being exposed. 

“If COVID-19 is spreading in your community, take extra measures to put distance between yourself and other people to further reduce your risk of being exposed to this new virus. Stay home as much as possible. Consider ways of getting food brought to your house through family, social, or commercial networks,” said experts. 

The agency has asked this high-risk group to have supplies on hand by contacting their healthcare provider to ask about obtaining extra necessary medications to have on hand. This is in case there is an outbreak of COVID-19 in the community and they need to stay home for a prolonged period.

“If you cannot get extra medications, consider using mail-order for medications. Be sure you have over-the-counter medicines and medical supplies (tissues, etc.) to treat fever and other symptoms. Most people will be able to recover from COVID-19 at home. Have enough household items and groceries on hand so that you will be prepared to stay at home for a period of time,” said the CDC.

According to a March 8 report, a federal official had told The Associated Press (AP) that the White House had overruled health officials who wanted to recommend that elderly and physically fragile Americans are advised not to fly on commercial airlines because of the new coronavirus, “The CDC submitted the plan as a way of trying to control the virus, but White House officials ordered the air travel recommendation be removed,” reported AP.

It added, “On Sunday, Dr Fauci — the head of infectious diseases at the National Institutes of Health and a member of the White House Coronavirus Task Force — said 'no one overruled anybody'."