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Unprepared

Published on March 12th, 2020

Older people are vulnerable to infections regardless of where they live. As you age, your immune system is not as hearty as it was when you were younger. Moreover, older people are more likely to have chronic diseases, such as diabetes, heart disease, or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (a lung condition), which can make them more vulnerable during outbreaks as well.

An analysis of more than 70,000 confirmed and likely cases in China published last month in JAMA indicated that the fatality rate for confirmed cases among 70-to-79-year-olds was about 3.5 times higher than the overall fatality rate, and the rate among those 80 and up was about 6.5 times higher than the overall rate.

When older people live alongside one another, their vulnerability to infectious diseases is compounded. This often happens with skin diseases and influenza in long-term-care settings, and COVID-19 would be no different. This outbreak aside, each year an estimated 380,000 people living in American long-term-care facilities die of an infection, including staph infections and diarrheal diseases.It doesn’t help that caregivers’ jobs require them to come into close contact with many residents, while helping them get dressed, bathe, eat, and use the toilet. Often they lack training and supplies needed to prevent the spread of disease in senior-living settings: rigorous and thorough hand-washing, the proper use of personal protective equipment (gloves, masks, gowns, and such), and proper cleaning.

The majority of nursing homes—there are more than 15,000 of them in the U.S.—aren’t prepared for an epidemic.

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