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CDC: If you’re older, you may be at risk from coronavirus. Here’s what you can do to stay safe

The U.S. government’s coronavirus recommendations tell older adults to avoid crowds, cruises and long plane rides — advice that one public health official acknowledged won’t be welcomed by many.

“Our goal is to protect you,” Dr. Nancy Messonnier of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said Monday. “This will require you and your family to take action.”

She acknowledged many people won’t welcome the tips, but said, “these are the kind of recommendations that I’ve made for my parents,” who are in their 80s.

Among the CDC’s recommendations for older adults:

— Avoid unnecessary travel, including long plane trips and cruises.


— Avoid crowds and stay home as much as possible.

— Keep extra supplies of medicines handy.

— Call your doctor if you develop fever, cough or shortness of breath, and get immediate medical help for severe symptoms including difficulty breathing, persistent chest pain or confusion.

Messonnier reiterated the precautions that were issued last week by U.S. health officials.

The CDC doesn’t specify age for the recommendations on its website, but “starting at age 60, there is an increasing risk of disease, and the risk increases with age,” said Messonnier, adding that the highest risk is in people older than 80. Roughly 20 percent of the U.S. population is aged 60 and older.

Messonnier said the disease is “capable of spreading easily and sustainably from person to person" and there is “essentially no immunity” to it in the population.

She said it’s fair to say that many people in the United States, at some point this year or next year, will be exposed to the virus and many will become sick. But health officials do not expect most people to develop serious illness.

The data so far from China suggest that 80 percent experience only mild illness, while 15 to 20 percent will develop serious illness, she said.


The disease does not appear to take a heavy toll on children. A look at more than 70,000 cases in China found only about 2 percent of cases were in people under 19. She also note that in South Korea no one under the age of 30 had died and in Japan no one under the age of 50 had died. “This seems to be a disease that affects adults and, most seriously, older adults,” she said.

“The people who are at greatest risk are those who are older and who also have serious long-term health conditions, like diabetes, heart disease, and lung disease,” she said.

COVID-19 has infected 600 people in the U.S., and at least 25 have died, most in Washington state. Cases worldwide have topped 111,000 and more than 3,800 people have died, most in China.

Vicki Quade, a 66-year-old Chicago playwright, said she thinks most of the advice is extreme.

“Yes, be a bit more cautious, wash your hands and if you’re not feeling good, stay inside,” Quade said. She has rheumatoid arthritis that she knows puts her more at risk but has no plans to give up going to plays, movies and out to eat.

“I'm not that worried. Perhaps I should be but I think we have to continue just living our lives,” Quade said.

Martin Finucane of the Globe staff contributed to this report.