Coronavirus and Seniors: What You Need to Know

Coronavirus and seniors - key facts and prevention tips
Updated 4/6/20

Americans stay home to slow the spread of infection

To slow the spread of the COVID-19 virus, millions of Americans have been asked to stay at home for protection and only go out for food or medicine, to provide care, or to exercise in their neighborhoods while staying 6 feet away from others.

Taking these actions will slow the infection rate and reduce the number of people who get sick at the same time (“flatten the curve”).

This keeps health care systems from getting overwhelmed and helps severely ill people get the specialized care they need.

To protect your older adult, yourself, and those in your community, focus on learning the facts and following the CDC’s recommended prevention tips.

Here, we’ve gathered the latest news and research so you can easily see everything you need to know about coronavirus, how it affects seniors, and how to protect against it.

To get answers to top questions from caregivers, refer to our article: Coronavirus Senior Care Q&A.

If you have a question that we haven’t already answered, email us at and we’ll do our best to address it as quickly as we can.


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Quick facts and prevention tips

Commonly known as “coronavirus,” the COVID-19 virus is a respiratory illness.

Currently, the risk of getting coronavirus in the U.S. is low. 

But if the illness does spread, seniors and people with chronic health conditions are at higher risk, just as they are with seasonal flu.

To reduce the spread of disease, CDC recommends using common-sense prevention practices:

  • Get a flu shot, if you haven’t already
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.

For people at higher risk of getting very sick from COVID-19, the CDC recommends:

NOTE: Dangerous fake cures and treatments, scams, and misinformation are spreading online and on social media. Jump to our Fake Cures section below to get the latest news and debunk dangerous false information.

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Where to get the latest updates on coronavirus

The U.S. Centers for Disease Control (CDC) is monitoring the situation closely and is the best source of information about COVID-19 (coronavirus).

For the latest information and recommendations, visit the CDC’s Situation Summary page.

And check the CDC’s quick tip sheet Share Facts, Not Fear for key coronavirus facts that put a stop to rumors and misinformation.

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What is coronavirus or COVID-19?

Coronaviruses are a large family of viruses. 

In general, human coronaviruses cause respiratory tract infections that range from the common cold to more serious illnesses like Severe Acute Respiratory Syndrome (SARS).

COVID-19 is the name for a new virus that’s been spreading across the globe since late December 2019. It hadn’t previously been seen in humans.

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How does COVID-19 spread?

Similar to seasonal flu, COVID-19 is passed between people through coughing, sneezing, or close contact like touching or shaking hands.

It can also be transmitted by touching a surface with the virus on it and then touching the eyes, nose, or mouth without washing hands.

Just like the flu, the virus spreads easily, which makes it hard to contain.

And because the incubation period is between 2 and 14 days, people could be transmitting the disease while they have no symptoms.

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Coronavirus prevention

To protect from coronavirus, the CDC recommends the same methods that you’d use to protect against the flu or other common respiratory diseases.

Preventive measures include:

  • Getting a flu shot (if you haven’t already)
  • Washing hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing nose, coughing, or sneezing. If soap and water aren’t available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer.
  • Avoiding touching eyes, nose, and mouth with unwashed hands.
  • Avoiding close contact with people who are sick. Close contact is considered more than a few minutes within 6 feet of a sick person or direct contact like kissing or sharing utensils.
  • Staying away from work, school or other people if you become sick with respiratory symptoms like fever and cough.
  • Covering coughs or sneezes with a tissue, then immediately throwing the tissue in the trash.
  • Cleaning and disinfecting frequently touched objects and surfaces like doorknobs, remote controls, phones, computers, and mobile devices.

Consider “social distancing” for those at higher risk
People who are over the age of 60, pregnant, or on medications that weaken the immune system are at higher risk of infection and complications of infection.

Someone who’s at higher-risk might want to consider “social distancing” as a preventive measure.

That means if there’s any reported risk of COVID-19 transmission in the local area, avoid large gatherings of people and public transportation (bus, subway, taxi, rideshare).

In addition, keep a safe distance from other people, approximately 6 feet.

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Coronavirus symptoms, severity, and death rate

Patients with COVID-19 have symptoms that are similar to other respiratory illnesses like colds or flu.

Common symptoms include mild to severe symptoms of fever, cough, and shortness of breath that usually begin two to 14 days after exposure. 

Less commonly, sore throat and diarrhea have been reported in some patients. 

Many patients with severe complications from the virus develop pneumonia in both lungs.

Researchers currently think that about 1% of coronavirus cases will result in death. However, the fatality rate varies by age, with older adults with pre-existing conditions more likely to die.

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Seniors are at higher risk of complications and death

Generally, with a respiratory illness like seasonal flu, older adults are at higher risk of infection and developing complications like pneumonia. 

Coronavirus COVID-19, a respiratory illness, seems to be following the same pattern.

Seniors are more vulnerable because their immune systems are weaker due to age and often made worse by frailty or chronic illnesses like diabetes, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), or heart disease. This reduces the body’s ability to cope with and recover from illness.

And according to U.S. News & World Report, “about 80% of people who have died from the virus in China were over 60 years of age, China’s National Health Commission has reported. Studies in The Lancet found an average age of 55 among Chinese citizens who’ve developed pneumonia as a result of coronavirus infection.”

This is similar to the pattern seen in seasonal flu. In most flu seasons, the majority of flu deaths happen in people 65 or older.

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Does the flu shot provide protection against coronavirus?

First, let’s remember that it’s still flu season and that the flu is known to cause serious illness and complications in seniors. Getting the flu shot reduces flu risk and severity. Get more info about the benefits of the flu shot for seniors »

In terms of COVID-19, according to Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Respiratory Diseases, there’s no evidence that the flu shot or the pneumococcal vaccination will provide protection from the coronavirus. 

But according to Dr. Trish Perl, an infectious disease specialist at the University of Texas Southwestern Medical Center, “it is possible that the coronavirus, by injuring lung cells, can make it easier for pneumonia to take hold in people who also get the flu or bacterial pneumonia.”

So, infectious disease specialists strongly recommend flu vaccination as a way to prepare for coronavirus.

For seniors, having both the flu shot and the pneumococcal vaccine can increase the chances of staying healthy.

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Do face masks protect from coronavirus?

Surgical masks are a common sight in areas with coronavirus outbreaks. But are they effective in protecting from infection?

Experts say that they offer some protection, but only when worn properly. And even when worn properly, air and germs can still get around the sides of the mask.

AARP writes that according to Amesh Adalja, M.D., an infectious disease physician and senior scholar at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, “a typical disposable mask can help prevent large-particle droplets from reaching your mouth and nose – two common areas where viruses enter the body.”

Adalja says, “But you really have to be meticulous when wearing them and not put your hand underneath them and touch your face or do anything that would contaminate your face and kind of obviate the reason for having the mask.”

Currently, the CDC doesn’t recommend that people who are well wear a face mask. They should only be worn if a healthcare professional recommends it.

In addition, a face mask will restrict breathing. So if someone already has a health condition that affects their ability to breathe, wearing a face mask could do more harm than good.

If you wonder if your older adult or you should be wearing a face mask, check with their or your doctor first.

However, face masks should be worn by people who show symptoms of COVID-19. This helps prevent the spread of the disease to others. They also should be worn by people who are taking care of someone who is sick.

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Is there a coronavirus vaccine or treatment?

Currently, there is no vaccine or cure for coronavirus.

But scientists and pharmaceutical companies are hard at work on a vaccine. Some trials are scheduled to start as early as April.

And the World Health Organization’s director-general said that “more than 20 potential vaccines aimed at preventing coronavirus disease are in development around the world.”

Plus, treatments to help patients heal or to relieve symptoms are already in clinical trials. Currently, researchers are focused on testing the existing antiviral drug remdesivir and a combination of HIV and flu drugs.

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Avoid dangerous fake coronavirus “cures,” scams, and misinformation

*Updated regularly*

IMPORTANT: DON’T attempt any coronavirus cures or treatments without first speaking with a qualified, reputable medical professional – preferably your regular doctor.

Be aware and avoid fake products that claim to cure coronavirus. 

Scammers and thieves take advantage of public fear and confusion to sell fake medications, supplements, or treatments – especially on the internet and through social media.

Similarly, rumors and misinformation about supposed “cures” or “preventive measures” have been spreading like wildfire on the internet and social media.

Popular coronavirus scams include:

  • Free store gift cards as COVID-19 stimulus packages in exchange for filling out a customer survey or registration
  • Get free iPhones by clicking a link in a text message – loads malware that spies on you
  • Counterfeit face masks and hand sanitizer 
  • Fraudulent home test kits for coronavirus
  • Undelivered goods from fake sellers – they promise to sell you a sold out product like face masks, take your money, and don’t deliver anything
  • Emails, texts, apps, or websites that claim to track the spread of the virus, but get you to download ransomware onto your device that blocks your access and holds your phone or computer for ransom
  • Fake supplements, lotions, toothpastes, teas, etc. that claim to cure or treat coronavirus
  • Religious or faith-based miracle cures
  • CBD-based cures and treatments
  • Fake charity organizations
  • Robocalls pitching a variety of scams
  • Fake payday loans
  • Fake work-from-home schemes

Top news stories that keep us informed about coronavirus scams and rumors of fake cures:

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Top resources and latest news about coronavirus for seniors

* Updated Mondays and Thursdays *

Recommendation Regarding the Use of Cloth Face Coverings, Especially in Areas of Significant Community-Based Transmission – U.S. Centers for Disease Control, 4/3/20
“…a significant portion of individuals with coronavirus lack symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and that even those who eventually develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.  This means that the virus can spread between people interacting in close proximity—for example, speaking, coughing, or sneezing—even if those people are not exhibiting symptoms. In light of this new evidence, CDC recommends wearing cloth face coverings in public settings…”


AARP Ensures Seniors on Social Security to Get Stimulus Payments Automatically – AARP, 4/3/20
I’m pleased to tell you that our advocacy got results. AARP reached out to officials in the White House and in Congress. Nearly two-thirds of the Senate sent letters to the Treasury Department demanding they reverse course. 

Within 24 hours, the IRS did just that: They announced late Wednesday night that seniors who receive Social Security benefits will automatically get their payments. We expect those payments will come very soon, and they should be direct deposited into the account where you receive your Social Security check.


Garcetti urges L.A. to wear face coverings when doing essential tasks in public – LA Times, 4/1/20
The Times reports, “‘The face coverings do not have to be hospital grade but need to cover the nose and mouth. For example, bandannas, fabric masks and neck gaiters are acceptable. Fabric covers and bandannas can be washed and used again,’ the county said.

Officials said the recommendation is based on new knowledge about the coronavirus.”


A Guide to Surviving Financially as the Bills Come Due – New York Times, 3/31/20
The New York Times writes, “The coronavirus has dealt a financial blow to millions of Americans and now April’s bills are coming due.

The good news is there is help available. Reach out immediately to your mortgage lender, student loan servicer or utility provider to see what’s available. Other assistance, such as stimulus checks or unemployment benefits, will take more time. 

The bottom line is that you need to take action to seek certain forms of relief.

Here is help navigating the biggest issues…”


Infected but Feeling Fine: The Unwitting Coronavirus Spreaders – New York Times, 4/1/20
The CDC director says new data about people who are infected but symptom-free could lead the agency to recommend broadened use of masks.


See Which States and Cities Have Told Residents to Stay at Home – New York Times, updated 4/3/20


Coronavirus Tips: Frequently Asked Questions and Advice – New York Times, updated 4/3/20
This excellent FAQ answers almost any question you have about the coronavirus outbreak. It covers a wide variety of topics, including health, money, staying in, going out, science, and more.


The FDA has approved emergency use of a new coronavirus test that delivers positive results in 5 minutes and negative results in 13 – Business Insider, 3/28/20
“Abbott Laboratories announced Friday that the FDA approved the emergency use of its new Abbott ID NOW COVID-19 test…

After Abbott Laboratories received approval from the FDA for its ID NOW COVID-19 test on Friday, the medical device company announced that it would be ramping up its production to make 50,000 units per day as early as next week.

According to a spokesperson from Abbott, the tests will be available beginning on April 1.”


Coronavirus Slowdown in Seattle Suggests Restrictions Are Working – New York Times, 3/29/20
“The Seattle area, home of the first known coronavirus case in the United States and the place where the virus claimed 37 of its first 50 victims, is now seeing evidence that strict containment strategies, imposed in the earliest days of the outbreak, are beginning to pay off — at least for now.”


Can You Become Immune to the Coronavirus? – New York Times, 3/25/20
“The answer is a qualified yes, with some significant unknowns. That’s important for several reasons.”

Find out what researchers know about building immunity against COVID-19 and the big questions that still remain.


Tax Day now July 15: Treasury, IRS extend filing deadline and federal tax payments regardless of amount owed – Internal Revenue Service, 3/21/20
The Treasury Department and Internal Revenue Service announced today that the federal income tax filing due date is automatically extended from April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020.

Taxpayers can also defer federal income tax payments due on April 15, 2020, to July 15, 2020, without penalties and interest, regardless of the amount owed.

Taxpayers do not need to file any additional forms or call the IRS to qualify for this automatic federal tax filing and payment relief. 

The IRS urges taxpayers who are due a refund to file as soon as possible. Most tax refunds are still being issued within 21 days.


Coronavirus Anxiety: Coping with Stress, Fear, and Uncertainty – HelpGuide
Fears about COVID-19 can take an emotional toll, especially if you’re already in a stressful situation. These tips can help.


Worried about coronavirus? If your loved one is over 60, read this – CNN Health, 3/13/20
This article has helpful tips specifically for older adults (over the age of 60) to protect their health. The article cites two geriatricians and guidance from the CDC and also includes a downloadable fact sheet.


What You Can Do About Coronavirus Right Now – New York Times, 3/26/20
Tara Parker-Pope, founding editor of The Times’s award-winning consumer health site, writes “You have an essential role to play in slowing the spread of the new coronavirus.

The good news is that small changes in personal behavior can buy time – slowing the outbreak, preventing hospitals from becoming overwhelmed and reducing cases until scientists develop treatments and, eventually, a vaccine.

Here’s some practical advice from doctors and public health experts to protect yourself and your community.”


Q&A: How to care for the elderly without putting them at risk of coronavirus – STAT, 3/12/20
In this article, STAT spoke with Charlotte Yeh, chief medical officer at AARP, to find out how to stay in touch with and care for older adults without putting them at risk of exposure to Covid-19. The discussion covers important questions like:

  • Should people consider taking their elderly out of long-term care facilities?
  • How can people stay connected with their elderly family members during a time of restrictions on visits?
  • How can the elderly stay active inside their home and keep themselves entertained?


How to Protect Older People From the Coronavirus – New York Times, 3/14/20
People over 60, and especially over 80, are particularly vulnerable to severe or fatal infection. The New York Times shares steps to reduce their risk.

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Resources for Alzheimer’s and dementia caregivers

*Updated regularly*

Teepa Snow’s How to talk to your family member who is locked in AND living with dementia – 3/20/20
If your older adult has Alzheimer’s or dementia, this video will help you answer their questions and get cooperation about the major changes in routine while minimizing distress or arguments. 

From the beginning to 10 min 5 sec in the video: Watch Corrie (mom) and Beth (daughter) struggle through the “normal” conversation that is happening with COVID-19 quarantine and lock-downs. 

Starting at 10 min 5 sec: Teepa offers insight and the Positive Approach and Beth and Corrie demonstrate how things could be different for all involved.


Alzheimer’s Foundation of America Helpline
The Alzheimer’s Foundation of America’s Helpline is open 7 days a week to provide guidance and information about coronavirus prevention tips, handling isolation, and caring for their loved ones. The web and text chat features are available in more than 90 languages.

Families can connect with the AFA Helpline:

  • Via phone by calling 866-232-8484
  • Web chat by visiting and clicking on the blue and white chat icon on the lower right hand corner of the page
  • Sending a text message to 646-586-5283


Alzheimer’s Association’s Coronavirus (COVID-19): Tips for Dementia Caregivers
“Most likely, dementia does not increase risk for COVID-19, the respiratory illness caused by the new coronavirus, just like dementia does not increase risk for flu. However, dementia-related behaviors, increased age and common health conditions that often accompany dementia may increase risk.

For example, people with Alzheimer’s disease and all other dementia may forget to wash their hands or take other recommended precautions to prevent illness. In addition, diseases like COVID-19 and the flu may worsen cognitive impairment due to dementia.”

Find out about:

  • Tips for dementia caregivers at home
  • Staying healthy
  • Tips for caregivers of individuals in assisted living

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By DailyCaring Editorial Team


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