COVID-19: The current situation for vulnerable populations

The COVID-19 pandemic can be especially unsettling for individuals with pre-existing medical conditions. Every day that you practice social distancing during the pandemic you’re helping someone else, especially those who are at a heightened risk of contracting the virus. (Image Source: The National Environmental Education Foundation (NEEF))

By Bec Gaitaneris | @bec_gaitaneris

Individuals with pre-existing medical conditions including heart disease, lung disease, diabetes and asthma are at a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19.

While information so far indicates most COVID-19 illness is mild, statistics obtained from The Australian Government’s Department of Health state that individuals with diagnosed chronic medical conditions seem to be at a higher risk of developing serious COVID-19 illness.

Early data recorded by the Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicated that the Case Fatality Rate (CFR) in China for people with underlying chronic health conditions was higher than for those without.

For people with chronic respiratory disease, the CFR was 6.3%, compared to 0.9% for those not diagnosed with a chronic illness and who are considered healthy.

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Early-stage COVID-19 case fatality rates by underlying health conditions in China. (Image Source:  Chinese Centers for Disease Control and Prevention)

Although the data obtained from the graph is based on early-stage cases in China when the pandemic first began, the number of new cases is indicating that elderly people, who typically have underlying health conditions, are finding it difficult to recover from COVID-19.

New data obtained from the Department of Health shows that people between the ages of 20-29 have had the most confirmed cases of COVID-19 of any age group, with the proportion of cases in males and females being almost equal.

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Total confirmed COVID-19 cases by sex and age group. (Image Source: The Australian Government Department of Health)

For 20-year-old Jane Thompson, who was diagnosed with severe asthma two years ago, contracting COVID-19 is of concern.

“Initially, I was not overly concerned about Coronavirus, as it was overseas,” Ms Thompson said.

“Since being declared a pandemic and having significant impacts on everyone’s lives, I am now more aware of the risks involved with being a severe asthmatic.

“Now that there is a higher possibility of contracting the virus, I am establishing optimal control over my asthma, ahead of future challenges regarding COVID-19.”

The past few months have also been an unsettling time for 21-year-old Mallory Bradley, who like Ms Thompson has an underlying chronic health condition.

Ms Bradley was diagnosed with endometriosis early last year but has been living with it developing for nine years.

“I know that if I get the virus it will hit me very hard so it is scary,” Ms Bradley said.

“My immune system isn’t very strong, as my body is already dealing with my constant symptoms.”

During this time, Ms Thompson and Ms Bradley’s primary concern is their health.

Ms Thompson says she is taking measurable steps to best minimise the risk of contracting the virus. She is ensuring her asthma is well controlled by taking her preventer medication as prescribed by her GP and having an Asthma Action Plan in place.

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An integral part of asthma management is the development of a written asthma action plan. (Image Source: National Asthma Council Australia)

“Every diagnosed asthmatic should have a personalised Asthma Action Plan from their GPs,” Ms Thompson said.

In a recent report released by the Australian Department of Health, all Australians, whether testing positive for COVID-19 or not, are required to stay home unless it is absolutely essential.

Ms Thompson and Ms Bradley are both currently practising good hygiene methods and social distancing to minimise their risk of exposure. They are also encouraging others to take appropriate measures to minimise risks for others with underlying health conditions that are more susceptible to contracting the virus.

“I am self-isolating and practicing social distancing until further notice,” Ms Thompson said.

“I am only going outside for absolutely necessary things including work.

“Members of my family are collecting my essential groceries and prescribed medication.”

During her self-isolation, Ms Thompson is taking the time to focus on her studies and well-being.

“I have remained calm throughout this pandemic and continue to stay in contact with my family and friends via face time and phone,” she said.

“I am trying to stay positive and do what I can to stop the curve.”

Amid the COVID-19 crisis, Ms Bradley’s hospital appointments, which are essential to her chronic illness management, have been classed as ‘elective’ and therefore cancelled.

Ms Bradley also began social distancing a month ago and has been in self-isolation for nearly two weeks.

“I am currently doing everything I can to stay healthy; unfortunately, this has come at a low point in my health so pain management has been extremely important,” she said.

Every day that you practice social distancing during the pandemic, you’re helping someone else (especially those who are at a heightened risk of contracting COVID-19). So if you can, stay home.

For more information on how you can best look out for those who are at risk during the pandemic go to the Australian Government of Department of Health.

If you or anyone your know feels overwhelmed during this pandemic, help is available. Get in touch with Beyond Blue 1300 22 4636 or Lifeline 13 11 14 for immediate crisis support. 

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