Caregiver questions about coronavirus
We’re getting many questions from caregivers about how to reduce risk and protect older adults from coronavirus (COVID-19), get financial help, and more.
We created this Q&A to answer those questions and will keep updating as we get more questions and as we’re able to provide thoughtful, informed answers.
For information about COVID-19 recommendations, how to reduce risk of spreading, symptoms, and much more, refer to our article: Coronavirus and Seniors: What You Need to Know.
To see all our articles about coronavirus and seniors, click here.
If you have a question that we haven’t already answered, email us at firstname.lastname@example.org and we’ll do our best to address it as quickly as we can.
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Use these links to jump directly to the questions you’re most interested in. Or, keep scrolling to see all questions.
- Should older adults have non-essential visitors during this time?
- What precautions should I take when I’m visiting an older adult’s home?
- When I bring purchases into the home, like food or household supplies, do I need to sanitize them before putting them away or using them?
- When I receive packages, do they need to be sanitized?
- What’s the proper technique for washing my hands to reduce the spread of infection?
- How do I disinfect my older adult’s home to prevent the spread of viruses?
- I care for two separate people, in two separate locations. How can I safely provide care and not transmit viruses between them or from myself?
- My older adult is in a nursing home or assisted living community that has been locked down – no visitors are allowed. How can I keep in touch with them and make sure they’re not scared or lonely?
- Are grocery stores dedicating certain hours in which high-risk individuals (like seniors) can shop without crowds?
- Updated 4/7/20 – Is the COVID-19 virus airborne? Can I get infected by using the elevator in my building?
- If I have a fever and don’t know if I have COVID-19, is it ok to take Advil (ibuprofen) to bring down the fever?
- What should I do if I start to feel ill?
- Is financial help available for people who have been impacted by the coronavirus crisis? (See #18 for additional tips and info)
- What are some senior-friendly indoor activity ideas?
- Should seniors go to existing medical appointments?
- How do I talk about coronavirus lifestyle changes and shelter-in-place orders with someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia?
- What can you do when seniors won’t take social distancing or stay-at-home orders seriously?
- I can’t work right now because the company is shut down, I’ve been laid off, or because I need to stay home to reduce my older adult’s exposure to the virus. What kind of financial help can I get?
- Updated 4/2/20 – I heard that Americans are going to get money from the government. What does that mean for me? How much money will I get?
- What does Medicare cover for coronavirus?
- What about me? Are coronavirus tests and treatments going to be covered by my health insurance?
- I lost my job-based health insurance coverage and I’m worried about getting medical care if I get sick. Where can I get low-cost coverage now?
- Updated 4/7/20 – Should I wear a face mask when I go out? What about at home?
- Should I make my own hand sanitizer? Can I use DIY hand sanitizer recipes that I find online?
- Should grandparents be visiting with grandchildren right now?
- I’m on Social Security and don’t have to file taxes. Do I need to file a tax return or extra paperwork to get my coronavirus stimulus payment from the government?
- What are my options if I can’t pay my credit card bills due to coronavirus?
- What’s the best material to use when making a cloth face mask?
- What should I do if my older adult gets sick? How do I know if they have COVID-19?
1. Should older adults have visitors during this time?
No. Everyone, and especially seniors, should try to interact with as few people as possible. Keep all interactions to the bare minimum.
Reducing the number of people an older adult comes into contact with reduces the amount of germs that they’re exposed to. That reduces the risk that they’ll become infected with COVID-19.
Now, it’s becoming very clear that everyone needs to take this seriously in order to slow disease spread.
Across the U.S., schools and non-essential businesses are being closed and counties are issuing mandatory “shelter in place” orders that require everyone to stay in their homes.
Hopefully, these changes to public life make it easier to politely, but firmly tell visitors that, out of caution, you’re following CDC or local government instructions and limiting your older adult’s contact with people as much as possible.
You may want to arrange phone calls or video calls so your older adults can “virtually” enjoy the company of family and friends.
2. What precautions should I take when I’m visiting an older adult’s home?
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.
When you enter your older adult’s home, you’ll have potentially come into contact with the virus while you were out and should take precautions to reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to them.
Is your visit necessary?
First, make sure your visit is essential. For example, you might live with your older adult or regularly go to their home to care for them.
But if it’s not necessary for you to see your older adult at this time, protect their health by postponing your visit until local health officials say it’s safe.
Instead, you could call them on the phone or visit once to set up video calling so you’ll be able to “see” each other regularly.
Or if you’re dropping something off for them, consider leaving it on their doorstep or just inside their door.
Follow basic CDC recommendations
Generally, you should follow the CDC’s recommendations for high risk individuals like seniors.
That includes diligent and proper handwashing for 20 seconds, not touching your face, and cleaning high touch surfaces like your mobile phone, faucet knobs, doorknobs, and countertops. Refer to the CDC site for the full list of recommendations.
Additional ideas to reduce viruses brought into an older adult’s home
We also share additional suggestions on what you could do to reduce the amount of germs coming into the home.
This doesn’t mean that you need to or have to put all of these ideas into practice. They’re meant to give you ideas and help you become more aware of how germs could potentially spread.
Everyone needs to decide for themselves which precautions they feel are reasonable and necessary.
Beyond practicing good hygiene and following CDC recommendations for high risk individuals, there are no clear cut right or wrong actions.
In addition to CDC recommendations, you might consider:
- Wash your face, hands, and forearms
- Clean your mobile phone with a 70% alcohol wipe or put it away before washing hands and don’t touch it again
- Remove shoes and/or wear indoor shoes or slippers
- While there, wash hands every 30 to 60 minutes – moisturize after washing to prevent cracking skin
- If you might be sick (even if it’s a mild cold), wear a disposable mask and disposable gloves
- Put your bags in an out of the way corner or near the door, limiting their contact with the rest of the home
- Remove all rings and bracelets (before washing hands) and don’t wear them while in the house – in case virus particles could be hiding in nooks and crannies
- Do a full change of clothing – being careful not to touch the outside of the clothing when removing it
- Pull back your hair to reduce the likelihood that you’ll need to touch it or that it would brush against your older adult
- Take a shower (wash your hair too) and change clothes
- When reasonable, stay a few feet away from your older adult and avoid physical contact
If you have additional ideas for reducing the spread of viruses, let us know.
3. When I bring purchases into the home, like food or household supplies, do I need to sanitize them before putting them away or using them?
According to the CDC, proper hand hygiene is the most important thing in reducing the spread of COVID-19.
However, items from stores have been touched by many people and could potentially carry the virus, which can live for up to 3 days on surfaces like plastic and steel.
Items that have been packed or delivered by grocery services have also been handled by other people.
Then, when you handle the item or outer packaging later at home, lingering germs could be transferred to your hands.
“If people are concerned about the risk, they could wipe down packages with disinfectant wipes and wash their hands,” said Dr. Linsey Marr, an expert in the transmission of viruses by aerosol at Virginia Tech.
This article from Consumer Reports contains useful information from infectious disease experts and specific suggestions on how to clean and disinfect groceries and other household goods that you’ve purchased or had delivered.
For most items and surfaces, washing with soap and water can break apart the COVID-19 virus’ cell walls and kills it.
Scenarios covered in the Consumer Reports article include:
- Washing nonporous containers
- Washing hands, counters, and any other surfaces that were touched while cleaning and putting groceries away
- Washing produce with soap and water
4. When I receive packages, do they need to be sanitized?
This New York Times article writes that “a new study, published on 3/17/20 in the New England Journal of Medicine, suggests that the virus doesn’t survive more than a few hours on packages.”
To further reduce risk of transmission from packages, you might want to follow the suggestions in the answer to question #3 above.
5. What’s the proper technique for washing my hands to reduce the spread of infection?
This brief video from Johns Hopkins Medical shows the World Health Organization’s (WHO) method for proper hand washing.
The CDC recommends washing for at least 20 seconds (sing the Happy Birthday song twice).
The only suggestion we’d add to the video’s technique is to wash faucet knobs with soap and water so you can safely turn the water on and off as needed. Keeping the water running the entire time wastes a lot of water.
You may also want to print out this helpful WHO poster on proper handwashing technique and post it next to sinks as a helpful reminder.
6. How do I disinfect my older adult’s home to prevent the spread of viruses?
At home, the CDC recommends that people practice routine cleaning of frequently touched surfaces with household cleaners and EPA-registered disinfectants that are appropriate for the surface, following label instructions.
Those “high-touch” surfaces include, but aren’t limited to:
7. I care for two separate people, in two separate locations. How can I safely provide care and not transmit viruses between them or from myself?
It’s great to be extra cautious when caring for two separate high-risk individuals.
The goal is to reduce the amount of potential germs that you’re bringing into each of their homes or living spaces.
To reduce the risk of transmitting the virus to them or between them, we’d suggest following the CDC’s recommendations for high-risk individuals and consider adding some of the ideas in the answer to question #2 above.
For example, if you’re seeing two separate people on the same day, you may want to do a full change of clothing before seeing the 2nd person. If they’re especially high-risk, you could consider taking a full shower as well.
As we mentioned in the answer to question #2 above, the precautions that you choose to take will depend on your assessment of the risk and the feasibility of taking those precautions.
There are no clear cut “right or wrong” actions to take except to follow the CDC’s recommendations for high-risk individuals.
8. My older adult is in a nursing home or assisted living community that has been locked down – no visitors are allowed. How can I keep in touch with them and make sure they’re not scared or lonely?
This is a tough issue that many people are struggling with right now.
Some care communities have promised to help residents use computers or tablets to communicate with family, but haven’t yet done so.
Realistically, your means of communication will be limited by what your older adult is currently capable of and what the facility allows.
In general, just do the best that you can. Use whatever means of communication that is currently available until a better means becomes available.
And periodically check in with the facility to make sure your older adult is doing well and find out when they’ll be arranging video communication.
We’ve included suggestions for various situations:
Video calls on a computer
For example, if your older adult can use a computer, consider doing a Zoom video call with them.
Zoom offers free options and once you get set up, you could send a “meeting invitation” link by email so they can easily get into the video call. They’re also offering extra support and tutorials to help people use their service – here.
Zoom works equally well on mobile devices, we mention it here because we think it’s the easiest way to get someone into a video call if they don’t already use video calling apps or software.
Video calls on a mobile phone
Aside from FaceTime on Apple iPhones, additional free video calling services for mobile devices and computers include: Skype (iPhone / Android), Google Hangouts (iPhone / Android), Google Duo (iPhone / Android), WhatsApp, and Facebook Messenger.
Talk on the telephone
If your older adult uses a landline telephone, get to know their regular daily schedule so you can call when they’re likely to be in their room.
Drop off letters or care packages
If their care community won’t allow visitors and your older adult isn’t able to use a phone or computer, find out if you can drop off letters or packages for them.
If this is allowed, you could put together a bag of basic supplies, favorite snacks, or comfort items and drop it off for them. And to remind them that they’re loved and missed, you could include special photos or a handwritten letter.
If it’s feasible, you could even ask family and friends to send letters for them to you via email so you can print them out and add them to your older adult’s care package.
If you choose this option, remember to wash your hands for at least 20 seconds using the WHO method before handling anything that you’ll be giving to your older adult.
With older adults at high risk, it’s better to be safe than sorry. So we’d recommend thoroughly cleaning all the items you’ll be including in the care package so they won’t accidentally pick up any germs from those items – see our cleaning suggestions in question #3 above.
9. Are grocery stores dedicating certain hours in which high-risk individuals (like seniors) can shop without crowds?
Yes. We’re happy to see that grocery stores across the U.S. are dedicating certain shopping hours for seniors and people with underlying health conditions that compromise their immune system.
High-risk individuals like seniors must avoid crowds in order to reduce their exposure to COVID-19. But they also need to buy food and other essential supplies.
Major grocery chains like Walmart, Target, Albertsons, Safeway, Whole Foods, and Dollar General have responded to these needs by either opening earlier or reserving certain days or hours for high-risk shoppers.
This USA Today article has a full list of the markets they’re aware of who are offering this service.
10. Is the COVID-19 virus airborne? Can I get infected by using the elevator in my building? – Updated 4/7/20
When someone who is infected with COVID-19 coughs or sneezes, tiny droplets that contain the virus fly out of their noses and mouths and into the air. (That’s why we’re supposed to cough or sneeze into our elbow)
USA Today reports that a recent study published in Journal of the American Medical Association found that in some conditions, droplets from coughs, sneezes, or just breathing can travel more than 26 feet and linger in the air for minutes.
Outdoors, the breeze, open space, and air circulation will disperse the “gas cloud” of droplets.
But a small, enclosed space like an elevator doesn’t get as much air circulation. That increases the chance that you could walk into an invisible cloud of virus particles lingering in the air.
First, following CDC recommendations for physical distancing means avoiding riding in elevators with other people.
Second, if an infected person used the elevator, they would have touched common surfaces like the elevator buttons or handrails, leaving them contaminated. If you touch those surfaces and later touch your face, you could transfer the virus to yourself.
Adding to that, there could be virus particles in the air inside an elevator from previous passengers
Taking all that into consideration, it’s best to avoid riding in elevators as much as possible.
If taking the elevator is essential, follow CDC recommendations to wear a face covering or cloth mask. You may also want to wear gloves or use hand sanitizer to disinfect your hands after touching those publicly used surfaces.
Anthony Santella, a public health professor at Hofstra University, told Business Insider, “If I were living in an apartment building I would limit my time outside my household or apartment.
We can really only control things inside of where we live. Even if you have the best intentions and follow CDC guidelines you can’t control the behaviors of other individuals.”
Business Insider reports that Santella recommends avoiding getting into an elevator with other residents and wiping down anything that is exposed to other people that you might end up touching such as door handles, mailboxes, and elevator buttons.
11. If I have a fever and don’t know if I have COVID-19, is it ok to take Advil (ibuprofen) to bring down the fever?
Long before coronavirus came along, healthcare professionals have debated the pros and cons of taking ibuprofen to treat symptoms of an illness.
For seniors, this could be a moot point. Generally for older adults, acetaminophen (Tylenol) is a safer painkiller and fever reducer.
Seniors are warned to be very careful when taking NSAIDs (a class of drugs that include ibuprofen or naproxen). That’s because their side effects are much more likely to cause harm as people get older – especially risk of bleeding in the digestive system.
With COVID-19, a new concern about NSAIDs was raised when the French health minister stated that taking anti-inflammatories like ibuprofen or cortisone could worsen the symptoms of the illness.
Currently, the World Health Organization (WHO) has not made any recommendations against COVID-19 patients taking ibuprofen and there seem to be doctors and healthcare experts on both sides of the “Advil vs. Tylenol for COVID-19” debate.
There’s also another factor to consider. Infectious disease specialists say that “the greater concern is that when Nsaids and acetaminophen reduce fever, patients may be more comfortable but their lower temperatures can short-circuit the body’s main defense against infection.”
The only recommendation everyone seems to agree on is that you must consult with your own doctor to find out what treatments they recommend for your specific medical history and current health conditions.
12. What should I do if I start to feel ill?
COVID-19 symptoms are unfortunately generic – fever and cough, possibly shortness of breath.
Those are some of the same symptoms as the common cold and the flu. Plus, seasonal allergy sufferers may also experience similar symptoms.
And for seniors, those types of symptoms could also be caused by issues related to existing chronic health conditions.
These somewhat generic symptoms may cause many people to wonder if they’ve been infected or if they need to get tested.
Experts say that as the virus spreads, it will become more likely that you could have the new illness.
“This is much more widely spread than people realize,” said Amesh Adalja, an infectious-disease expert at the Johns Hopkins Center for Health Security. “The events in Washington state really show that this has established itself in our communities and will continue to do so.”
According to the Washington Post, “evidence from the more than 80,000 coronavirus cases that have been reported in China indicates that about 80 percent of illnesses are mild.”
If you feel like you have mild cold symptoms that you wouldn’t normally call a doctor about, then you should self-isolate at home to avoid transmitting it to others and take care of yourself with your regular cold remedies.
This relieves pressure on the healthcare system and eliminates the risk of you contracting the virus in a doctor’s or hospital waiting room if you didn’t actually have it.
But if you have more serious symptoms, the article continues, “It’s a good idea to call your primary-care doctor if you have both a fever and a cough, said Maria Raven, chief of emergency medicine at the University of California at San Francisco. And if you have shortness of breath, unremitting fever, weakness or lethargy, it’s definitely time to get in touch with a health-care professional, according to Adalja. Those could be signs of pneumonia, which is common in severe cases of coronavirus.”
Adalja also noted, “Older people and those with underlying medical conditions, such as diabetes, heart disease or chronic obstructive pulmonary disease, are more at risk for severe illness. You should act quickly to seek medical attention if you fall into one of those categories and feel seriously unwell,”
And if you have a fever, cough, or trouble breathing and have recently traveled to an area with a known outbreak or have been in contact with a confirmed infected person, the CDC recommends that you contact your doctor right away.
In an extreme situation, “if you or someone you are caring for is very short of breath, is minimally responsive or unresponsive, looks blue or ashen, or has low blood pressure, Adalja said, you should call 911 immediately and travel by ambulance to an emergency room.”
13. Is financial help available for people who have been impacted by the coronavirus crisis?
The economic impact of COVID-19 is enormous and far-reaching.
Financial help hub
If your income has decreased or been cut off, the New York Times has created a hub for financial help during the coronavirus crisis.
The New York Times article explains how:
- Unemployment insurance works
- The new paid leave law works
- To get help for renters and homeowners
- The tax payment deadline extension works
- Where to get Social Security help now that SSA offices are being closed
- To keep your utilities on – electricity, gas, water, internet
- Additional resources including how to avoid investment or debt relief scammers
Home mortgage relief
On 3/19/20, federal regulators announced that they’re ordering lenders to give homeowners flexibility in mortgage payments.
According to NPR, “homeowners who have lost income or their jobs because of the coronavirus outbreak are getting some relief. Depending on their situation, they should be eligible to have their mortgage payments reduced or suspended for up to 12 months.”
However, the article emphasizes that “homeowners can’t just stop paying their mortgage. ‘They need to contact their servicer – that is the lender that they send the check to every month,’ he says. ‘That lender will work with them to be able to work out a payment plan…’”
Credit card companies
Banks and credit card companies are creating assistance programs to help customers who are financially impacted by coronavirus.
Bankrate has put together a list of companies offering assistance. If yours isn’t on the list yet, you may want to contact them to find out if they plan to put something in place.
The Bankrate article also includes advice from a credit expert on what to do if the offered options don’t work for you. “‘Most credit card issuers have off-menu options for those struggling financially,’ says Bruce McClary, vice president of communications and spokesperson at the National Foundation for Credit Counseling. ‘All that’s required is to be honest about your circumstances when speaking with the account representative and asking direct questions about available short term hardship programs.’”
14. What are some senior-friendly indoor activity ideas?
To keep everyone’s spirits up, engage your older adult in a variety of fun activities.
Here are some ideas that are great for the current situation:
- 9 Enjoyable Activities for Seniors with Limited Mobility
- Activities for Seniors: Jigsaw Puzzles
- 9 Entertaining Activities for Low Vision Seniors with Alzheimer’s or Dementia
- Entertain and Engage Seniors with Books on Tape
- Entertaining Seniors at Home: Watch Free Live Nature Cameras
- 10 Easy Crafts for Seniors with Dementia: Inexpensive DIY Ideas
And we’ve got dozens more senior-friendly activity ideas here on our website.
Exercise is another great way to boost mood and the immune system. It’s also another fun activity that keeps seniors engaged.
We’ve got some ideas you might like:
- Chair Yoga for Seniors: Reduce Pain and Improve Health
- 3 Easy Tai Chi Videos for Seniors Prevent Falls, Improve Balance and Strength
- Home Dementia Exercise Program Increases Abilities and Improves Symptoms
- Head to Toe Gentle Seated Chair Exercises for Seniors Improve Range of Motion
- 12 Easy and Gentle Seated Stretching Exercises for Seniors in 4 Minutes
- Seated Tai Chi for Seniors: 3 Simple Routines Improve Flexibility and Well-being
- Easy & Effective 10 Minute Chair Exercises for Seniors
And we’ve got dozens of senior-friendly exercise suggestions here on our website.
15. Should seniors go to existing medical appointments?
Many older adults have regular appointments with doctors and specialists to treat and maintain chronic health conditions.
But going to a medical appointment could expose your older adult to the virus.
For the general public, experts like Dr. Carla Perissinotto, an associate professor in the Geriatrics Division at UCSF, are advising people to cancel non-essential medical appointments.
However, for seniors, those regular appointments may be essential for maintaining their health so it’s best to call their doctor to find out what to do.
Their doctor will let you know if the appointment is truly necessary and if not, how long it can be postponed without harming their health. Or perhaps it could be accomplished using telemedicine.
Similarly, for important regular check-ins to monitor blood chemistry or take other physical readings, ask the doctor what they recommend for your older adult’s specific health situation.
16. How do I talk about coronavirus and shelter-in-place orders with someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia?
It can be tough to explain the coronavirus outbreak to someone who has Alzheimer’s or dementia without causing anxiety, upset, or confusion – only to have the same conversation again in an hour or a day.
If they’re living in a nursing home or memory care, it could be even harder to get them to understand why you’ve stopped visiting.
Teepa Snow created a helpful video that demonstrates a couple of “unsuccessful” phone conversations a daughter is having with her mom who has dementia to explain why she can’t visit right now. Teepa explains what could work better and they show techniques that make the conversation more successful. See the video
In addition, the therapeutic fibs and validation and distraction techniques explained in these articles also help you find ways to calm the situation and stop the flow of questions:
- 3 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Says I Want to Go Home
- Therapeutic Fibbing: Why Experts Recommend Lying to Someone with Dementia
- 4 Ways to Respond When Someone with Alzheimer’s Is Repeating the Same Thing Over and Over
17. What can you do when seniors won’t take social distancing or stay-at-home orders seriously?
To the frustration of adult children and spouses, some people aren’t taking the threat of COVID-19 seriously – even though they’re in a high-risk group simply due to the immune system changes that come with being over 60 years of age.
They’re continuing to go out to eat, socialize with friends, or even travel.
Here are 4 tips to help you get the message across that they need to take recommended precautions to keep themselves, their families, and the community safe:
1. Figure out who they listen to
It’s frustrating that they won’t listen to your careful research, but try not to take it personally. Think about the sources of information that they typically trust and use those to convey your message.
For example, if they listen to their doctor or leading medical institutions, share information from those sources.
Or, if they tend to listen to advice from a specific friend or relative, ask that person to share the facts and recommendations.
2. Offer alternatives so they won’t feel isolated or abandoned
Your older adult might be fearful that they’ll be alone and forgotten if they don’t continue their current lifestyle.
Help them set up alternative ways to communicate and virtually spend time with family and friends.
Or, find online activities they can participate in. Many senior centers, museums, aquariums, and other learning and entertainment destinations are creating online presentations or webinars.
3. Explain that they could be passing the virus to others
People of all ages can get seriously ill and even die from COVID-19, not just seniors.
Remind your older adult that by continuing to go out, even if they don’t get severely ill themselves, they could become infected and pass the illness to others.
You could ask about their friends who are older or have chronic health conditions. Could it be possible that your older adult might pass the virus to a friend and cause them to become severely ill or die?
And if you have children, you might say that you wouldn’t want them to potentially infect their own grandkids.
4. Share what you’re doing to keep yourself and your family safe and why
Nobody wants to be told what they should or should be doing.
One way to convey the seriousness of the situation is to share the precautions that you’re taking and why you’ve chosen to do so.
You might tell them that you and your family members have cancelled your upcoming vacation and are staying home all day, every day because you want to avoid other people and limit exposure to the virus.
Or, you could share how you taught your kids the new 20 second hand-washing routine to keep them from getting sick or passing germs to others.
18. I can’t work right now because the company is shut down, I’ve been laid off, or because I need to stay home to reduce my older adult’s exposure to the virus. What kind of financial help can I get?
1. Apply for paid leave
The new Families First Coronavirus Response Act (FFCRA or Act) requires certain employers to provide employees with paid sick leave or expanded family and medical leave for specified reasons related to COVID-19.
Most workers at small and midsize companies, as well as government employees, can get paid leave as long as they’ve been employed at least 30 days.
However, there are many exceptions, so you’ll need to check with your employer to find out if this is something they’re offering.
2. Apply for unemployment insurance
Each state is different, but unemployment benefits typically replace about 45% of your lost income.
States also have their own rules for unemployment benefits, so it’s worth checking to see if you qualify. In some places, you might not have to lose your job to get unemployment benefits.
In addition, the $2 trillion stimulus plan also expands unemployment benefits, adds to the amount the state provides (up to an extra $600 per week), and extends coverage by 13 weeks.
So, people who are unemployed, are partly unemployed, or cannot work for a wide variety of coronavirus-related reasons will be more likely to receive benefits.
For example, if you or your older adult get COVID-19 and you cannot work because of that, you’re eligible.
And if you rely on a facility, school, or daycare to care for an older adult or child in order to work (and now can’t work because they’re shut down), you’re eligible.
3. Get your tax refund ASAP
The IRS has automatically given everyone an extension on filing and paying federal taxes until July 15, 2020.
However, they’re encouraging anyone who’s expecting a refund to file their taxes right away. The IRS says that most refunds are being issued within 21 days.
4. Contact your banks, mortgage, credit card, and loan companies to learn about payment options
Many major financial organizations are creating programs to help customers who aren’t able to make payments due to the coronavirus outbreak. Contact your financial organizations to find out how they can help.
For mortgages and housing
The Federal Housing Finance Agency has instructed mortgage servicers to allow borrowers whose mortgages are owned by Fannie Mae or Freddie Mac to delay payments for up to 12 months due to hardship caused by the coronavirus.
Contact your mortgage servicer (the company where you send your monthly payments) as soon as possible to let them know about your current circumstances. The telephone number and mailing address of your mortgage servicer should be listed on your monthly mortgage statement.
To get the latest updates on how homeowners and apartment-dwellers can get help with housing costs, check the Federal Housing Finance Agency Coronavirus Assistance Information page
For federal student loans
The CARES Act, a $2 trillion government stimulus package that provides economic relief for COVID-19, federal student loan payments will be suspended through September 30, 2020 and no interest will accrue during this period.
5. Contact utility companies to find out about assistance programs
Most utility companies like water, power, and internet services have agreed not to terminate service for customers who can’t pay.
They may also have assistance programs that you can enroll in.
19. I heard that Americans are going to get money from the government. What does that mean for me? How much money will I get?
President Trump signed into law a $2 trillion economic stimulus package that includes payments of up to $1,200 to US taxpayers.
The law also provides financial aid for businesses and industries and expanded unemployment and student-loan assistance.
The New York Times has created a comprehensive guide to the stimulus package that answers the questions that are at the top of everyone’s minds.
We’ve summarized their answers to 5 top questions here.
1. How much money will I get?
Currently, most adults will be getting one payment of $1,200. However, the payment amount varies depending on your adjusted gross income (AGI).
And for every qualifying child age 16 or under, the payment will be an additional $500.
The Washington Post has created a free coronavirus stimulus check calculator. Find out how much money you’ll get
2. Do I have to do anything to get paid?
No. If the IRS already has your bank account information, it will transfer the money to you via direct deposit based on the recent income-tax figures it already has.
3. When will the money arrive?
Most people will get their payments within three weeks (of March 27th).
Updated on 4/2/20:
According to Business Insider, the IRS will start sending payments beginning April 9, but some Americans could wait as long as 5 months to get their check.
Electronic payments should be made by April 14 at the latest.
But for paper checks, it will take longer.
People with the lowest-income have priority. Checks to individual taxpayers making $10,000 or less will be mailed on April 24.
Then, paper checks will be mailed out to Americans by $10,000 increments per week starting from April 24.
For example, checks for those in the $20,000 or less bracket will be mailed on May 1. Then, on May 8, checks will be mailed to Americans earning $30,000 or less, and so on.
Business Insider reports, “Most Americans should receive their money by April 17, Treasury Sec. Steven Mnuchin said. But the IRS still has yet to publicly announce how it plans to distribute the stimulus package money to Americans.
4. Will most people who are receiving Social Security retirement and disability payments each month also get a stimulus payment?
20. What does Medicare cover for coronavirus?
Important Medicare.gov notice: Scammers may use the coronavirus national emergency to take advantage of people while they’re distracted. As always, guard your Medicare card like a credit card, check Medicare claims summary forms for errors, and if someone calls asking for your Medicare Number, hang up immediately!
Since most people with Medicare are at higher risk for serious illness from COVID-19, Medicare has made changes to help people get the health coverage they need.
Added coverage includes:
- Lab tests for COVID-19 – there are no out-of-pocket costs.
- All medically necessary hospitalizations, with the usual deductible and coinsurance. This includes if you’re diagnosed with COVID-19 and need to stay in the hospital under quarantine.
- Expanded coverage of telehealth services to help you access a wide range of health providers using various communication devices (including smartphone). This helps you “see” your doctor or other healthcare provider without having to physically go to a doctor’s office or hospital, which could put you and others at risk of exposure to COVID-19.
- If a vaccine for COVID-19 becomes available in the future, it will be covered by all Medicare Prescription Drug Plans (Part D).
- Medicare Advantage Plans have access to these same benefits. Many also offer additional telehealth benefits so check with your plan to find out about specific coverage and costs.
Since things are changing so rapidly, check the Medicare and Coronavirus page on Medicare.gov website for the latest info.
And for people who need nursing or long term care due to COVID-19, the New York Times reports: “Normally, Medicare covers care in a skilled nursing facility for up to 100 days after a qualifying hospitalization.
During this crisis, patients can be covered if they need to be transferred to skilled care to make room at hospitals, or need that care because of the Covid-19 emergency, regardless of whether they were previously hospitalized.”
21. What about me? Are coronavirus tests and treatments going to be covered by my health insurance?
In March, Congress passed the Families First Coronavirus Response Act to ensure access to COVID-19 testing.
According to the Kaiser Family Foundation, “it requires Medicare, Medicaid, all group health plans, and individual health insurance policies to cover testing and visits related to the diagnosis of COVID-19 during the federally-declared emergency period. In addition, the new law gives states the option to provide Medicaid coverage of COVID-19 testing for uninsured residents with 100% federal financing.”
Many states have passed similar requirements for insurers in their state to ensure access to COVID-19 testing.
And many private insurance companies have voluntarily expanded coverage for testing.
The new law also requires health plans under the Affordable Care Act to cover coronavirus testing and to waive cost sharing and prior authorization.
For other treatments, hospital visits, or hospitalizations related to COVID-19, the New York Times, who is keeping their article on this topic up to date, says:
“Policies regarding your out-of-pocket costs for coronavirus testing and treatment are changing rapidly.
State insurance regulators are taking steps to limit how much you might eventually owe, and insurance companies and employers have also changed the rules for most plans to eliminate deductibles or co-payments for testing.
Now insurers are starting to waive out-of-pocket costs if you need to go to the hospital, and that could reduce your bills.
But it’s still unclear how much you’ll wind up paying, leaving public health experts worried that people who are sick may hesitate to get medical care because of concerns over bills.”
Overall, even though things are unclear at the moment, experts are saying that more aid may be coming, so the current estimates of how much people would have to pay for COVID-19-related treatment may decrease as things change.
22. I lost my job-based health insurance coverage and I’m worried about getting medical care if I get sick. Where can I get low-cost coverage now?
Many Americans get their health coverage through their employer. But due to the coronavirus pandemic, many companies have been forced to furlough or lay off their employees.
This New York Times article does a great job of breaking down the available options for people who need health coverage now.
Here, we summarize the options for 4 common scenarios affecting family caregivers.
1. If you lost your job and now have no income
In a majority of states, you will most likely qualify for Medicaid.
Because of the Affordable Care Act, most states now allow all residents to qualify for Medicaid if their household’s monthly income is below a certain threshold – around $1,400 for a single person or $2,950 monthly for a family of four.
That includes any normal unemployment benefits you are receiving, but not the additional $600 a week being paid under the new coronavirus stimulus package and not other special stimulus payments.
To enroll or find out if you qualify, visit your state’s Medicaid website.
Or, visit Healthcare.gov to get directed to your state’s health insurance marketplace. There, you can fill out an application.
However, the New York Times article recommends using your state’s Medicaid website.
It warns, “For somewhat complicated reasons, the best way to apply for Medicaid if you’re in this situation is to go directly to your state Medicaid agency, not the Healthcare.gov site.”
2. If you lost your coverage and are now looking for subsidized (lower cost) coverage – Updated 4/8/20
11 states and the District of Columbia have opened a special enrollment period under the Affordable Care Act to allow laid-off workers to get subsidized health insurance.
These plan premiums are subsidized on a sliding scale according to income, and most areas offer several plan choices.
To see your options, visit Healthcare.gov to get directed to your state’s marketplace website.
As of April 1, The Trump administration will not be opening a special enrollment period for the the Affordable Care Act’s Healthcare.gov marketplaces to new customers.
The New York Times reports, “The decision will not prevent Americans who recently lost their jobs from obtaining health insurance if they want it.
Under current law, people who lose job-based insurance already qualify to enroll for health insurance on the marketplaces, but are required to provide proof that they lost their coverage.
A special enrollment period would have made it easier for such people to enroll, because it would not require that paperwork.
It also would have provided a new option for people who chose not to buy health insurance this year but want it now.”
3. If you’re already on an ACA subsidized plan, but your income has been reduced
The healthcare premium subsidies in the Affordable Care Act marketplace are calculated at the beginning of the year, based on your estimated income for that year.
So if your income has now changed, you can update your marketplace account and adjust your estimate to get a larger subsidy.
You may need to provide documents proving the income change, like a termination letter or a recent paycheck.
4. If you’d like to keep the coverage from the job you just lost
In some cases, you may want to keep your current coverage.
For example, you might be in the middle of a treatment for a chronic condition and not want to change doctors.
Under COBRA, you can keep your current coverage for 18 months. However, the premium is going to be high.
You’ll have to pay your normal premium plus the amount your employer used to pay.
23. Should I wear a face mask when I go out? What about at home? – Updated 4/7/20
Wearing a face mask in public
Yes, you should wear a homemade mask or cloth face covering when you are in public.
The CDC has learned that COVID-19 is more easily spread than they first thought.
That’s because a significant number of people with coronavirus have no symptoms (“asymptomatic”) and even people who later develop symptoms (“pre-symptomatic”) can transmit the virus to others before showing symptoms.
On April 3, the CDC issued these guidelines recommending that people wear cloth masks or face coverings in public. This is in addition to maintaining a 6 foot distance from other people, another essential step in slowing the spread of coronavirus.
They emphasize that people should wear homemade, non-medical masks because medical-grade surgical and N95 masks are in short supply and urgently needed by healthcare workers and first responders.
The New York Times reports, “As many as 25 percent of people infected with the new coronavirus may not show symptoms…a startlingly high number that complicates efforts to predict the pandemic’s course and strategies to mitigate its spread.”
And Dr. Robert Redfield, the CDC director, said, “This helps explain how rapidly this virus continues to spread across the country,”
Wearing a face mask at home
If you’re caring for an especially high-risk older adult, you might want to consider having anyone in close contact with them wear a mask (including you).
Wearing a mask around your older adult would likely reduce their risk of getting the virus from someone who is infected, but has no symptoms.
Outside of personal care tasks, you may also want to keep a reasonable distance from them or reduce the amount of time you spend in close contact. That can help to further reduce exposure risk.
Of course, the most important thing is to continue practicing good hygiene to prevent the spread of disease, as recommended by the CDC.
How to make a DIY coronavirus face mask at home
Since the face mask guidelines are still changing, the CDC hasn’t issued official instructions on how to make a proper DIY face mask. If or when they do, we’ll update this information.
Any DIY mask won’t be medical grade, but they will reduce the risk of the wearer releasing droplets into the air as they speak, breathe, cough, or sneeze.
They also keep the wearer from touching their face without noticing
And in a pinch, any cloth covering is better than nothing – like tying a bandana or scarf on your face.
We found some reputable sources for instructions on how to make a DIY face mask:
- Video tutorial from Providence St. Joseph Health
- Providence St. Joseph Health’s written and illustrated instructions and mask template / pattern
- Deaconess Health Systems information and instructions and video tutorial
- N95 style mask written instructions with illustrations from the New York Times
- Pleated mask written instructions with illustrations from the New York Times
- Written instructions from Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Generally, organizations are recommending that DIY coronavirus masks be made from tightly woven, high-quality cotton material.
Here’s an article that compares how well various materials work in filtering out viruses. Based on this analysis, it seems that dish or tea towels in two layers are very effective.
Elastic is often recommended for the ear loops, but there are reports that it’s now in short supply. Making ties out of cloth will also work, as shown in some of the tutorials above.
Important: Use clean materials, clean hands, and a clean workspace. It might also be a good idea to properly launder your cloth mask before use to make sure that it’s clean – there’s a lot of handling as you make it.
Additional information about DIY face masks
These clothing designers tested fabrics and found that blue shop towels are less permeable than cotton. But this material won’t survive in the wash.
If you’re good at sewing, you might be able to figure out how to make a cotton mask with a pocket that allows you to add and remove a “filter insert” made from a shop towel type of material.
Next Avenue also has a helpful article with information and advice for home sewers who wish to help healthcare workers by donating homemade masks.
There’s also an ongoing debate on the ideal mask pattern and fabric. Find out more in this Washington Post article.
24. Should I make my own hand sanitizer? Can I use DIY hand sanitizer recipes that I find online?
Hand sanitizer, like toilet paper and masks, is in short supply these days.
Unfortunately, health authorities like the FDA don’t recommend making DIY hand sanitizer at home.
Hand sanitizers are actually over-the-counter (OTC) drugs that are regulated by the FDA.
This notice from the FDA explains:
If it’s not made correctly, hand sanitizer can be ineffective or even cause injury. For example, there have been reports of skin burns from homemade hand sanitizer.
Also, adding alcohol to non-alcohol hand sanitizer is unlikely to result in an effective product.
And using disinfectant sprays or wipes on your skin may cause skin and eye irritation. Disinfectant sprays and wipes are intended to clean surfaces, not people or animals.
Hand sanitizers are a convenient alternative when handwashing with soap and water isn’t possible. You can protect yourself and your family from coronavirus with simple hygiene.
Additional hand sanitizer Q&A
The FDA has also created a helpful Q&A to answer more questions about hand sanitizer – see it here.
25. Should grandparents be visiting with grandchildren right now?
No. Doctors and other medical professionals recommend that grandparents shouldn’t visit with their grandchildren during the coronavirus outbreak.
That’s because children are known carriers of illness and older adults are at high risk of becoming severely ill if infected with COVID-19.
The New York Times writes, “Given what we know right now, the answer is no, said Dr. Cynthia R. Ambler, M.D., a pediatrician at Northwestern Medicine in Chicago.
‘It appears that children and young adults are an important vector for coronavirus, because they may be infectious even if they don’t have symptoms,’ she explained.
As a result, they may inadvertently pass it on to the adults around them. ‘The research is very clear that people over the age of 60 are more likely to require hospitalization and even die from this virus, even if they’re in good health,’ she said.”
For situations where 3 generations all live in the same household, the recommendation is for older adults to isolate themselves from the rest of the family as much as possible.
The New York Times reports, “This may mean isolating grandparents from other members of the household, including limiting them to one section of the home as much as possible, and ensuring that they have their own bathroom, Dr. Posada said.
Everyone in the house should self-quarantine as much as possible, going out only for essentials such as groceries or urgent medical appointments.
Anytime a parent thinks they need to go out on an errand, they should ask themselves if they really need to do this, or if they can stay at home to prevent being potentially exposed to the coronavirus, Dr. Cross advised.”
No doubt, it will be tough on everyone to significantly reduce or cut off contact between grandparents and grandchildren.
Instead of spending time in person, connect regularly on the phone or through video chats. Encouraging letters and photos is another meaningful way to connect, though not as immediate.
(See answer #8 above for specific suggestions on how to keep in touch when visits aren’t allowed.)
26. I’m on Social Security and don’t have to file taxes. Do I need to file a tax return or extra paperwork to get my coronavirus stimulus payment from the government?
If you’re a senior and rely on Social Security as your main source of income, you aren’t required to file tax returns because your income is below a certain threshold.
For this group, the IRS originally wanted extra paperwork to be completed before they could receive their COVID-19 stimulus payment.
This would have been difficult because many of the tax preparers who help these seniors file taxes are closed down right now due to the pandemic.
Plus, seniors are a high-risk group who need to stay at home to reduce potential coronavirus exposure. Going out to get taxes done goes against this goal.
Fortunately, AARP advocated for American seniors and was able to get the rules changed.
The IRS has announced that seniors who get Social Security benefits will automatically get their payments direct deposited into the same account where their Social Security check is usually deposited.
27. What are my options if I can’t pay my credit card bills due to coronavirus?
Paying all your bills on time during this pandemic and economic shutdown just isn’t a possibility for so many Americans.
To help you figure out what to do, Wirecutter, a New York Times publication, has compiled a list of 13 major banks and their new policies that help credit card customers who need financial help due to coronavirus.
For each bank on their list, they share how you should contact them (some banks want you to contact a certain program), what type of assistance you can generally expect, who will qualify, and how long it will last.
Wirecutter also includes additional information on what to do if your bank isn’t on the list and shares useful information about minimum payments.
28. What’s the best material to use when making a cloth face mask?
Since the CDC recommended that Americans all wear a cloth face covering when out in public, there’s been a lot of confusion around what the best way to make a mask is and what material should be used.
The CDC has now posted their official recommendation on how a cloth mask should fit on the face, how to wear and launder it, and how to make one.
They share three face mask tutorials. One design is a surgical mask style and requires sewing, another is made from a t-shirt and doesn’t require any sewing, and the third is made from a bandana and coffee filter and also doesn’t require any sewing.
They’ve also posted a helpful video featuring Surgeon General Dr. Jerome Adams demonstrating how to make a quick no-sew face mask out of a piece of t-shirt and two rubber bands.
In addition, this New York Times article shares information from scientists and doctors about the best types of fabric to use when making a face mask.
Key takeaways from their article:
- Generally, 4 layers of common fabrics are more effective at capturing virus particles than 2 layers
- The most effective material (that still allows breathing and is widely available) is quilting fabric – typically high quality, high-thread count cotton
- The best-performing designs were: 1) 2 layers of high-quality, heavyweight “quilter’s cotton,” 2) a two-layer mask made with thick batik fabric, and 3) a double-layer mask with an inner layer of flannel and outer layer of cotton. Tip: If you want 4 layers of protection, you can wear two masks. 4 layers might be tough to sew due to the thickness.
In question 23 above, we posted a variety of DIY face mask tutorials and are including that list here:
- Video tutorial from Providence St. Joseph Health
- Providence St. Joseph Health’s written and illustrated instructions and mask template / pattern
- Deaconess Health Systems information and instructions and video tutorial
- N95 style mask written instructions with illustrations from the New York Times
- Surgical style mask written instructions with illustrations from the New York Times
- Written instructions from Vanderbilt University Medical Center
Important: When making a face mask, always use clean materials, clean hands, and a clean workspace. It might also be a good idea to properly launder your cloth mask before use to make sure that it’s clean if there was a lot of handling required to make it.
29. What should I do if my older adult gets sick? How do I know if they have COVID-19?
If your older adult has flu-like symptoms, assume they have COVID-19 and call their doctor immediately.
This is important since they’re in a high-risk group due to their age.
A doctor who knows their health conditions and history can advise you on what to do.
Aside from seniors, high-risk patients include people with asthma, lung disease, a history of pneumonia, heart disease, kidney disease, diabetes, a compromised immune system due to illness or a drug therapy, or a person who has recently been treated for cancer.
Call the doctor first, DON’T rush to the emergency room
The first thing to do is call the doctor. If they don’t have a doctor, call the hospital emergency room for guidance.
Don’t go to a doctor’s office or to the hospital without first letting them know that you suspect COVID-19 and getting instructions on what to do.
That’s because medical facilities have to plan ahead for potential coronavirus patients so they can keep everyone safe from possible infection.
Unfortunately, tests for COVID-19 are still hard to get. Even if someone has all the symptoms, they still may not get a test.
So in these cases, it’s safer to assume that the person is infected.
Quarantine at home
If they’re not admitted to the hospital, your older adult will need to be quarantined at home.
That means they’ll need to be isolated in a room away from everyone else in the household for up to 14 days.
Ideally, they will have their own separate sink and toilet and be as far from everyone else as possible.
Any separate closed off area will do. The idea is to minimize all contact with the rest of the household.
If a separate room isn’t available, just do the best you can to isolate your older adult from everyone else.
Even though it hasn’t been scientifically proven yet, some experts have suggested hanging plastic sheets to create barriers (maybe use plastic shower curtains if you can’t get plastic sheeting?). Any barrier seems better than none.
At mealtimes, put their food on a try so they can eat in their room.
Anytime you’re near them, you should ideally both be wearing masks. If they’re too sick to wear one, it’s essential for you or any other caregivers to wear a mask.
Since your older adult may already need help with the activities of daily living, while they’re sick they may need even more help. That will require you to have a lot of close contact with them.
Always wear a face mask, wash your hands thoroughly for 20 seconds with soap and water after every interaction, and disinfect high-touch surfaces at least once a day.
For added protection on top of wearing a mask, wear gloves and even clothing that you can drop in the laundry after being in close contact.
Anything you can do to reduce your own exposure to the virus is helpful. Unfortunately, that does mean reducing physical contact to the bare minimum needed for their care.
Cleaning the isolation area and home
If they have a separate bathroom, limit cleaning so you reduce your exposure to the virus. But if they need to share a bathroom, it’s ideal to disinfect after they use it.
Use gloves anytime you’re cleaning or handling the infected person’s laundry. But the New York Times says it’s fine for their laundry to be washed with non-infected laundry.
Daily linen changes for your older adult aren’t needed. It’s more important that you reduce your own exposure to the virus.
For the rest of the home, everyone should keep as far away from the isolation area as possible. And the CDC recommends regularly cleaning and disinfecting all high-touch surfaces (while wearing gloves).
Boost your own immune system
This will be a stressful and busy time, but it’s also important to try to boost your own immune system to reduce the chances that you’ll get sick.
Do your best to take small breaks throughout the day to decompress, breathe, and relax a bit. That might not sound very effective, but it truly does help reduce the damaging effects of stress on your body.
Also do your best to live as healthy a lifestyle as possible. Eating balanced meals, staying hydrated, and getting as much rest as you can will all help.
There’s no such thing as perfect, especially not now. Just do your best, do what’s realistic, and try to rest and relax whenever you can.
** Stay tuned. We’ll keep updating this page as we get more questions and as we’re able to provide thoughtful, informed answers. **
Recommended for you:
- Coronavirus and Seniors: What You Need to Know
- Nursing Home Lockdown: 6 Ways to Stay Connected with Seniors During a Coronavirus Scare
- 8 Shelter-in-Place Coronavirus Tips for Senior Care in Your Home
- Coronavirus Scam Alert: 7 Tips for How Seniors Can Avoid Them
By DailyCaring Editorial Team
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