The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) provisional death reports show 3 out of 4 deaths attributed to Covid-19 are among those 65 and older.  While the word “provisional” indicates these are not final percentages, a survey of recent news headlines supports the fact that the elderly are at greatest risk.

“Nine coronavirus deaths in Washington state, King County declares emergency,”
Q13Fox, March 2.

“California nursing homes limit social visits, ramp up prevention as coronavirus hits elderly,”
SacBee, March 10.

“Number of long-term care facilities with COVID-19 cases tops 400 nationwide,”
NBC News, March 30.

“As coronavirus tears through nursing homes, families face an impossible choice,”
LA Times, April 1.

“As Deaths Rise At Nursing Homes, Updates On Mass.’ COVID-19 Plans For Long-Term Care Facilities,” WBUR – NPR Boston News Station Report, April 15.

“Coronavirus deaths in U.S. nursing homes soar to more than 5,500,”
NBC News, April 15.

While political adversaries argue the economic harm vs. benefit of President Trump’s “stay-at-home” guidelines of March 13, there is no doubt the 65 and older demographic has been, and remains, the greatest beneficiary.  In this current pandemic, as the news samples above and countless others reveal, when the protective measures of personal isolation of those 65 and older fail, death is often the result.

So, what happens when the stay-at-home guidelines are removed as they soon must be?

Re-Opening the Economy

Whatever changes comes about as the nation re-starts its economic engine, one thing will not change:  without a vaccine and without effective therapeutic treatments, older adults will continue at greatest risk to Covid-19.

This is true even in light of what is being discovered as more systematic population testing is done. Initial results of such testing are providing both good news and not so good news.  

Larger numbers of our population than previously believed have been asymptomatic carriers of the disease.  An April 17 report in the LA Times reveals how large those numbers may be:

“In the weeks since the novel coronavirus outbreak has squelched daily life in America, researchers have struggled to assess the true spread of the virus. But initial results from a Northern California study on coronavirus antibodies suggest it has circulated much more widely than previously thought, according to a report released Friday.

“The preliminary study, conducted by researchers at Stanford University, estimates that between 2.5% and 4.2% of Santa Clara County residents had antibodies to the new coronavirus in their blood by early April. Antibodies are an indication that a person’s immune system has responded to a past infection.

“Though the county had reported roughly 1,000 cases in early April, the Stanford researchers estimate the actual number was between 48,000 and 81,000, or 50 to 85 times greater.”

The good news of this is that many more of our population have already had the virus run through their bodies. They are on the “other side” of the virus.

And while we don’t know for certain, it is hoped that those with antibodies will no longer be at-risk to the virus, nor be carriers of the virus.

What might this new information mean to older adults?  Not so good news.

The Not So Good News

First, the numbers revealed in the testing mentioned above may show the virus to be adept at hiding in MANY people.  It is hard to concieve how 47,000 to 80,000 people had no clue they carried the Covid-19 virus unless the symptoms were so minimal as to be difficult to detect.

A person who has the disease may be unaware of that fact and may be invisible to the simple symptom-checks the CDC has recommended such as: fever, cough, shortness of breath or difficulty breathing, chills, muscle pain, headache, and sore throat.  The CDC admits on their website these symptoms only “may” be present.  The resulting absence of such symptoms does not mean absence of Covid-19.

Next, if only 2.5% to 4.2% of one California county have antibodies indicating they had the virus, then 95.8% to 97.5% of that county remain potential hosts and asymptomatic carriers of the virus. 

What does this mean for older adults in light of the soon reopening of the economy?  Considering the necessary loosening of the stay-at-home guidelines required to re-open, those who are 65 and older will likely be put at greater risk than during the current stay-at-home orders.  The mitigation benefits social-distancing has provided any given community will be inversely affected with its removal.

Until a vaccine and effective therapeutic are found, those who are 65 or older, who are at greatest risk now, will be at greater risk then.

For the millions of older adults in Long Term Care Facilities (memory care, assisted living, nursing homes) across our nation who have been necessarily isolated from loved ones — the pain of that isolation will likely continue for some time to come.

God have mercy on us,

Jim Roper