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Virus Expert Warns These People Still in Danger of COVID

Cases continue to decline, but there are still people at risk.
FACT CHECKED BY Emilia Paluszek

COVID-19 cases continue to decline from the stratospheric highs posted by the Omicron variant. In many areas, officials have begun to relax restrictions and safety precautions, calculating that a pandemic-fatigued public is ready to "move on." Unfortunately, one segment of the population can't move on so easily: People at risk of severe illness or death from a COVID infection, like the immunocompromised, those with certain health conditions, or the elderly. 

As we move into the post-Omicron period, "we still have to think about if you're one of those individuals at high risk for serious illness, how do you live your life?" said virus expert Dr. Michael Osterholm on the latest episode of his podcast. The New York Times also tackled the issue in a recent article. Here's what the experts say all of us should do to keep each other safe. Read on to find out more—and to ensure your health and the health of others, don't miss these Sure Signs You've Already Had COVID.

1

Antiviral Drugs for the High-Risk Aren't Being Used

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Osterholm noted that antiviral medications are now available to help people at increased risk of severe COVID, but in his state of Minnesota, they are being underused. "These are really valuable tools, and we're not using them well," he said. 

The medications include monoclonal antibodies, which are given by IV in ERs and hospitals, and the antiviral drugs Paxlovid and molnupravir, which are taken orally at home. The antiviral drugs have been shown in clinical trials to reduce the risk of COVID-related hospitalization and death (Paxlovid by more than 80%, molnupravir by about 30%). But their usage has been "fairly low," says Osterholm. "I don't know why any one person would not want access to one of these drugs if they were at increased risk of serious illness, hospital or death."

People who test positive for COVID now should ask their doctors if they're eligible for the drugs. Among those who qualify: People over age 65 and those with chronic medical conditions.

2

At Risk: Transplant Recipients

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This week, the New York Times profiled a 37-year-old kidney-transplant recipient who has been confined to home because she is extremely vulnerable to a severe COVID outcome. People who've received organ transplants take drugs that prevent the immune system from rejecting the transplanted organ. The unfortunate side effect is that a weaker immune system is less able to fight off viruses like the one that causes COVID-19. 

The CDC recommends that people who are immunocompromised, like transplant recipients, get a fourth dose of an mRNA COVID vaccine. 

3

At Risk: People Who've Battled Cancer

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The Times also profiled a 31-year-old woman who was diagnosed with lymphatic cancer during the pandemic and underwent six rounds of chemotherapy; she now self-isolates to mitigate her increased risk of contracting and dying from COVID. Chemo kills cancerous cells, but it can also eliminate healthy immune system cells and weaken the body's ability to fight off even minor illness.

It's important that healthy people who interact with people who are immunocompromised take precautions to avoid contracting the virus, which they can pass along even if they don't experience symptoms. That includes being fully vaccinated and getting a booster shot.

RELATED: #1 Sign You Have One of the "Most Deadly" Cancers

4

At Risk: People With Many More Medical Conditions

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"Tens of millions more Americans have at least one medical condition, such as asthma or diabetes, that puts them at greater risk from COVID," the Times reports. "How much greater can vary widely; many live with little worry, while others at higher risk have felt the need to isolate from society."

According to the CDC, people with these health conditions are at increased risk of getting severely ill or dying from COVID:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic liver disease
  • Chronic lung disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Dementia
  • Diabetes
  • Heart disease
  • Immunocompromised
  • Mental health conditions
  • Overweight/obesity
  • Physically inactive
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Smoker, former or current
  • Organ transplant
  • Stroke
  • Substance use disorders
  • Tuberculosis

RELATED: How to Detox Your Body Fast, Say Doctors

5

At Risk: The Elderly

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People over age 65 face an increased risk of severe illness, hospitalization or death from COVID. According to the CDC, more than 81% of COVID deaths have occurred in people over age 65. That's because the immune system naturally weakens with age. That's also why it's especially important that people over age 65 are fully vaccinated and boosted against COVID and those who interact with them are fully vaccinated and boosted, and follow precautions to avoid contracting the virus. 

RELATED: #1 Sign You Have One of the "Most Deadly" Cancers

6

How to Stay Safe Out There

Brunette woman wearing a KN95 FPP2 mask.
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Follow the fundamentals and help end this pandemic, no matter where you live—get vaccinated ASAP; if you live in an area with low vaccination rates, wear an N95 face mask, don't travel, social distance, avoid large crowds, don't go indoors with people you're not sheltering with (especially in bars), practice good hand hygiene, and to protect your life and the lives of others, don't visit any of these 35 Places You're Most Likely to Catch COVID.

Michael Martin
Michael Martin is a New York City-based writer and editor. Read more about Michael