The Dangers of COVID for People who are Chronically Ill, Disabled, and Immunocompromised
Fatigue from the COVID-19 pandemic has hit everyone hard. It’s difficult to mentally and physically keep up with the stressful news and uncertainty of COVID. It’s even more difficult to understand what we can do to prevent or minimize the exposure and spread when so many of us have already faced our first bout of illness and reinfection is becoming more prevalent.
Mask mandates and other public health care measures are being dropped throughout the United States as people want to “get back to normal.” While we’re all eager for this, for those who are at higher risk of serious complications and their immediate household members, there is still plenty to be extra cautious about. Although recent variants have been described as milder for the general public, these variants are dangerous concerns for those with weakened immune systems. As of July 2022, the highly contagious omicron subvariant BA.5 that has the ability to cause reinfection is the prevalent COVID strain.
People who are chronically ill, disabled, and immunocompromised are more likely to experience serious side effects if exposed to COVID. Since many have moved away from requiring or even optionally wearing masks in public, healthy indoor air quality and ventilation have become essential tools in helping everyone stay safe against airborne diseases like COVID.
How COVID can affect people who are chronically ill, disabled, or immunocompromised
Though COVID should still be a concern for everyone, the most high-risk groups for serious complications are older adults, those with chronic illnesses, people who are immunocompromised, and people with disabilities.
These are also groups who are more likely to become sick if exposed to someone with coronavirus. Because COVID is a serious and easily transmittable disease, it’s important to be able to protect everyone as best we can in public, especially if they’re at higher risk.
People Who Are Chronically Ill
There’s a significant risk of severe illness if your chronic illness includes respiratory issues. Asthma, COPD, and lung cancer are chronic illnesses that target your respiratory system and coronavirus can worsen these respiratory symptoms.
These chronic respiratory issues will only get worse if exacerbated by COVID so it’s even more important to be able to protect yourself from possible exposure.
The strain placed on doctors’ offices and hospitals due to COVID has and continues to sideline care for those with a chronic illness. People with chronic illnesses that require hospital and doctor care weren’t, and some still aren’t, able to receive that care whether it is difficulties scheduling an appointment or fear of waiting in a crowded room close to others who might have COVID. Although it’s been a promising sign to see medical help go remote, many in-person procedures have been impacted.
Strict mask mandates and accommodations for those who do not feel comfortable waiting in a crowded room, especially if there is no proper ventilation, should be considered. Everyone should still be wearing a mask in a doctor’s office or hospital to minimize the spread of any kind of illness including COVID.
Having a system in place where a patient can wait outside of the indoor area, such as in their car, and be called when their appointment is ready would also decrease the number of people waiting in a small room where social distancing might not be possible, and everyone might not be wearing a mask.
People With Disabilities
The CDC states that most people with disabilities aren’t more likely to be affected by COVID, but certain circumstances could make a COVID infection more likely or more severe.
COVID can cause more issues for people who have limited mobility and might be exposed to COVID from necessary close contact with support providers or family members. It could also be difficult to protect from COVID if someone has trouble understanding or following preventive measures and are not able to communicate their symptoms.
Prevention methods including washing your hands, wearing a mask, and avoiding overcrowded and poorly ventilated indoor areas helps. Having a plan in place if a family member, support provider, or someone with a disability is infected with COVID is essential.
People Who Are Immunocompromised
People with a compromised immune system are either taking medication that suppresses their immune system or have an illness that negatively affects their immune system response.
Immunocompromised people are at particularly high risk from COVID complications due to their weakened immune system and the fact that they might not respond as well to the COVID vaccine. It’s suggested that people who are immunocompromised should receive four doses of the COVID vaccine as of May 2022 for the best protection, but this still isn’t a guarantee against infection.
There’s no way to know for sure how effective the COVID-19 vaccine is for someone with an immunosuppressive condition because a healthy immune response is needed for a vaccine to protect from severe illness. This has led this community to turn to more preventative and cautious measures even though many who have received vaccines are going “back to normal” without having to worry as much about severe illness if exposed to coronavirus.
There are other, but often difficult to obtain, oral treatments available like Pfizer’s antiviral pill since someone who is immunocompromised are at a higher risk of severe illness, hospitalization, and death if they do contract COVID. Immunocompromised individuals may also qualify more for treatments (like monoclonal antibodies) that are being used sparingly with healthier populations. For more guidance on this, it’s always wise to speak with a medical professional that’s part of the care team.
That said, these are only suggestions on how to best protect yourself and your family if you have a higher risk of COVID complications, and the best approach is to speak with your doctor to get information and advice as these suggestions are updated.
Ways to lessen the effects of COVID on people who are chronically ill, disabled, or immunocompromised
There are ways everyone can help protect themselves and everyone else when going out in public.
Keeping up to date on COVID vaccinations from trusted providers of the vaccine like Pfizer and Moderna is one of the best ways to lessen the serious effects of COVID on these communities.
Anyone who is fully vaccinated is less likely to experience serious health issues if they do test positive for COVID. They are also, though to a lesser extent, less likely to spread or catch the illness in the first place.
We can’t rely on everyone to get vaccinated and not everyone can receive it. In addition to those who are medically unable to get the COVID vaccinations, there is a large population, around 678 million children, under the age of 5 who cannot receive the vaccine as of May 2022 though this might be changing sooner rather than later. We should also assume that COVID variants will continue to pop up and be as prepared as we can to protect ourselves and those around us.
Mask-wearing reduces the risk of contracting COVID for everyone including those who are chronically ill, have a disability, or are immunocompromised by mitigating the airborne spread of illnesses. Masks have been used to try to mitigate the spread of COVID in indoor spaces, but are only truly effective if everyone is wearing them.
Frequent testing is another way to track the rate of COVID infections in your community and help those who are at higher risk weigh the dangers of going to crowded indoor areas. Frequent testing for those who are at higher risk also helps as medications like Pfizer’s Paxlovid are being released to fight COVID, but due to the limited quantity of these medications, it usually requires a positive test and proof of being at higher risk before it can be administered.
Social distancing and frequent hand-sanitizing and washing are other ways to reduce the risk of COVID for chronically ill, those who have a disability, or immunocompromised people. Arguably the safest solution is to stay away from people altogether, but that’s not always possible, or realistic, and it certainly isn’t fair.
Having stellar air ventilation and filtration can be achieved by updating HVAC systems and purchasing portable air purifiers that provide supplemental air cleaning. Air purifiers that utilize a high efficiency air filter and a strong motor provide a stronger cleaning air process that can also mitigate the spread of airborne viruses, which is the most important issue for COVID.
Air purifiers with a strong enough Clean Air Delivery Rate (CADR) to cover the entire square footage of your indoor space are the best step toward ensuring everyone’s safety in a public indoor environment.
Think of upgrading your HVAC air ventilation and adding portable air purifiers as another step to making your building accessible to everyone. There are several steps to make your building ADA compliant and while ventilation isn’t included as of now, the importance of clean air has never been more apparent.
HVAC upgrades and adding air purifiers help beyond mitigating the spread of COVID. They can mitigate the spread of any airborne virus including the flu and the common cold. It also helps anyone who is chronically ill with a respiratory issue like asthma, COPD, or seasonal allergies breathe more easily because they’re not breathing in indoor air pollution.
Productivity also rises with healthy indoor air quality. There are countless mental and physical health benefits to upgrading your ventilation and filtration whether you’re considering updating an office, business, school, or your own home.
A Note on Long COVID
Long COVID, or post-COVID, is another worry for anyone who is infected with the coronavirus. Symptoms can linger for weeks, months, or longer even after a negative test result and you’re no longer contagious.
Long COVID is a difficult condition to understand since the virus itself is so new and even less is known about its long-term effects. There’s evidence that when people recover from a COVID infection they can, unfortunately, have ongoing symptoms that can’t be easily treated.
These symptoms include more generalized issues like fatigue, bouts of fever, and post-exertional malaise. There can be lingering respiratory and heart symptoms including cough, chest pain, shortness of breath, and heart palpitations. And there can even be neurological symptoms like brain fog, headaches, sleep problems, dizziness, pins and needles feelings, change in taste or smell, depression, and anxiety.
These are significant post-COVID symptoms that can stay with anyone after a serious COVID infection that affects their quality of life. Anyone who had a serious infection, had an underlying health issue before infection, is affected by health inequalities like the disabled community, or didn’t receive a COVID-19 vaccination could be at higher risk for developing long COVID.
A Note on Long-Term Care Facilities
Nursing homes have been hit hard by COVID and it continues to be an issue in most facilities as COVID continues to be a threat. Residents and staff can be exposed to and spread COVID in a facility for older patients who are at higher risk.
Another concern is being able to adequately host visitors in a safe way so residents can see friends and family without being afraid of disease or being quarantined forever.
As of June 2022, there is funding for nursing homes to be able to supplement their existing HVAC systems by adding portable air purifiers to visitation areas. These high efficiency air filter air purifiers will help mitigate the spread of airborne viruses including COVID.
Best products for clearing the air of COVID particles for people who are chronically ill, disabled, or immunocompromised
The combination of updating your HVAC ventilation systems and adding portable air purifiers in indoor areas is the best way to fight the spread of COVID. Making sure that your ventilation system is upgraded and cleaned on a regular basis helps to keep your air clean and clear the air of airborne contaminants, including coronavirus particles.
Air filters and purifiers have countless benefits that keep everyone safe in indoor areas. They help mitigate the risk of contracting COVID for everyone including people who are chronically ill, people with a disability, and those who are immunocompromised.
In addition to helping mitigate the spread of airborne viruses like COVID, portable air purifiers can help filter out pollen, smoke, mold spores, and pet dander. Having indoor air purifiers and an updated air filtration system helps mitigate symptoms of chronic illnesses like asthma and allergies alongside acute viruses proving their benefit for and beyond COVID.
It’s difficult to navigate the ever-growing air purifier options that are out there. Here are some helpful hints when looking for air purifiers to clean your indoor air.
The air purifier market has been oversaturated since the importance of portable air purifiers in cleaning indoor air has been highlighted during the pandemic. Although the mainstream realization of the importance of indoor air quality is overall a good thing, it has opened the market for opportunistic companies to sell subpar and even dangerous products.
Experts including the CDC, EPA, Harvard, Johns Hopkins, and The American Society of Heating, Refrigerating and Air-Conditioning Engineers (ASHRAE) agree that HEPA filter based media is the proven and the preferred technology for portable air purifiers. Any other emerging technology like UV-C light and bipolar ionization hasn’t had adequate testing in real-life scenarios.
Air purifiers with only high efficiency air filters and a strong motor are preferred since they don’t introduce anything new into the air. Why would you want your air purifier to introduce something new and hazardous into your indoor air?
Air purifiers with filters that have a rating of MERV13 or higher and quality motors take in dirty air, filter out nasty particles, and push out clean air. Simplicity and proven technology is the best option when looking for the most trusted products to clear the air of COVID, other airborne viruses, smoke, and other allergens.