- Oops!Something went wrong.Please try again later.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) specifically states that people of any age who have serious underlying health conditions are at a higher risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19. Much of it comes down to being immunocompromised, whether from the actual illness or disease-modifying drugs to get symptoms under control, explains Susan Besser, MD, a primary care physician at Mercy Medical Center in Baltimore, Md.
The CDC recommends that people with serious chronic illness stay home as much as they are able, avoid crowds whenever possible and limit close contact with others. That can make it incredibly difficult to keep up with doctor’s appointments, treatment and life, in general. Here’s how people with chronic illness are managing right now.
“I’m completely quarantined.”
Sandy Diaz Haley has multiple sclerosis and is pregnant, putting her in two high-risk categories. “I’m doubly at risk,” the Dallas, Texas, resident tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “I’m completely quarantined. I’m not leaving the house to go to the grocery store or anything else.”
Haley has a prenatal appointment in two weeks, but isn’t sure if she’s going to go. “I’m going to call my doctor and see if it’s a vital situation,” she says.
“I have someone else get my groceries.”
John Linnell has stage 4 chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD) and he was already unable to leave the house to work. Linnell tells Yahoo Lifestyle that he was given a tip-off by his doctor that this was coming during a recent well-check. “He said, ‘Everyone is going to start staying home. Things could get bad,’” Linnell recalls.
“Now, I have someone else get my groceries,” Linnell says. “I stocked up on medications, but I’m worried about shortages in the future.”
“I make sure to wear rubber house cleaning gloves.”
Damien Howell has rheumatoid arthritis that’s managed with immune suppressive medication. “I am [a] male over 70, so I am a walking target for the virus,” he tells Yahoo Lifestyle.
Howell typically manages his daily joint stiffness with lap swimming, but he’s currently unable to do that due to the virus. “I am struggling to substitute with yoga movements and posture at home,” he says. He’s also taking extra precautions when he leaves the house. “When I go out for food and drugs, I make sure to wear rubber house cleaning gloves when using credit card machines and opening doors,” says Howell. “When I get home, I wash my hands.”
“When I ventured out to the store, it was so overwhelming.”
MS patient Diane Palaganas is doing her best to stay healthy and practice good hand hygiene. “One of the things that was difficult for me was going grocery shopping,” she says. “I don't have the luxury of having someone shop for me so, when I ventured out to the store, it was so overwhelming. Customers were shoving, moving fast, coughing... it was a nightmare.”
Stress can make MS worse, and Palaganas says her symptoms flared up. “I had such a difficult time walking, moving and navigating on top of this stressful environment,” she explains. Palaganas says her care has “been put on hold” for now. The medication she uses increases the risk of pulmonary infections, and Palaganas may need to stop using it for now. “I wonder if I don't get my medication, will it cause more lesions. Will I get more relapses?” she says. “My brain has been stable since being on it, I don't know what will happen if I am not consistent.”
“I'm taking social distancing very seriously, even with my husband.”
Mila Clarke Buckley, a type 2 diabetes patient and the founder of Hangry Woman, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that she’s taking extra precautions right now. “I've been more conscious of what I can do to keep myself safe,” she says. “Overall, I'm staying at home. I'm taking social distancing very seriously even with my husband.”
“Since he's still going out for basics as we need them, we decided that we wouldn't engage in physical affection like hugging or kissing,” Buckley explains. “We're instead blowing air kisses from across the room or air high-fiving. When both of us traveled earlier in the month, we agreed to sleep in separate rooms for a couple of nights to make sure we were in the clear and wouldn't pass anything on to one another.”
It's a “hard adjustment because it's your spouse,” says Buckley. But, she adds, “neither of us wants to take the risk.”
“I had to start worrying about this before most people did.”
Tatiana Skomski has ulcerative colitis, a chronic inflammatory bowel disease. “Germs can really affect me since I have a compromised immune system, and so I had to start worrying about this before most people did,” the 25-year-old tells Yahoo Lifestyle. “A lot of people didn't take it seriously for a while, but I had to from the start.”
Skomski’s boyfriend has been able to do grocery shopping and pick up medication for her. “I still have to go into the doctor's office to get my infusions of the medication I'm on for my ulcerative colitis, so I'm extra cautious when it comes to that,” she says. “I hand sanitize throughout the process and try not to touch things I don't have to. It's stressful already and this makes it extra stressful.”
“It's really hard to explain to a 3-year-old why we can't go out.”
Julie Stamm, a 40-year-old MS patient in Brooklyn, N.Y, has been in her house with her partner and son for nearly two weeks. “It's really hard to explain to a 3-year-old why we can't go out and play like his friends are still doing,” she says. “MS makes you make decisions that are tough and long-sighted.”
Stamm had an infusion of her medication the day before it was recommended that people self-quarantine. She filled all of her prescriptions for 90 days and had her partner pick them up. “I seriously worry about my catheter supply because I rely solely on them and getting an infection and its effects would be horrific,” she adds.
Stamm says she’s also nervous that her next infusion may be delayed “and the detrimental effects that would — not could — have on my health.”
It can be scary to have a chronic condition right now, but experts say there are systems in place to help.
Overall, social distancing and doing everything you can to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19 is crucial, says Sophia Tolliver, MD, clinical assistant professor of family medicine at The Ohio State University Wexner Medical Center.
“Individuals who fall into these groups should take special care to help practice social distancing, hand washing often, avoid touching their faces, covering coughs and sneezes in the bend of their elbow and disinfecting frequently touched surfaces often,” she explains. “Many states have initiated Stay At Home orders and certainly these groups should try to adhere to this as much as possible.”
Besser urges patients to continue with their treatment as much as possible, suggesting that it’s “vital.” “Stay as healthy as you can,” she says. “That way, even if you do get the illness, your body will be in better condition to fight it off.”
Tolliver says there’s “no need” to let medications run out of coronavirus fears — at least, not without talking to a doctor first. “Physicians and providers are still functioning to assist patients with all medication refill needs. Call and request a refill of your medications and your provider will work to make sure the refill is accurate and timely.”
Experts also urge patients to connect with their doctors during this time, given that they may have specific advice for your illness. Jayne Ward, DO, director of the National Multiple Sclerosis Society Clinic at Michigan State University, tells Yahoo Lifestyle that her medical group is urging MS patients to “take this a step further and make sure that any family member working outside of the house is extremely cautious with any potential sick contacts and upon re-entering the home immediately performs a change of clothes and hand sanitizing.”
Telemedicine is often an alternative too. “We have transitioned nearly all providers to telemedicine options, which include the capacity for patient and provider to meet virtually via video visits, telephone visits, and e-visits,” Tolliver says. Ward’s practice also offers telemedicine to patients.
Ultimately, patients need to do their best to be safe and continue treatment as much as possible, according to Besser.
Stamm is simply hoping for the best right now, and trying to take things day by day. “COVID-19 will pass and we will be able to enjoy the world again soon,” she says. “Until then, we need to be grateful for each other, our health and 30 minutes of fresh air on the roof every day.”
For the latest coronavirus news and updates, follow along at https://news.yahoo.com/coronavirus. According to experts, people over 60 and those who are immunocompromised continue to be the most at risk. If you have questions, please reference the CDC and WHO’s resource guides.