COVID-19 and Chronic Illness

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COVID-19 and Chronic Illness

Since the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic, health officials have warned that older adults are more likely to experience severe symptoms and complications. This can be attributed to the gradual deterioration of the immune system, which happens naturally as we age.

However, people of all ages with chronic health conditions—approximately half of all Americans— are also in increased danger of becoming seriously ill if they contract COVID-19. This generally includes people who have one or more of the following conditions:

  • Heart disease
  • High blood pressure
  • Diabetes
  • Asthma or other chronic lung diseases
  • HIV
  • A suppressed immune system due to a disease or treatment

The body’s organs all work together to stay healthy and fight off infections, but if one organ is already under stress from a chronic condition, the immune system isn’t able to fight off foreign infections as well.

This is why it’s especially important to maintain care for any conditions, particularly during a public health emergency like COVID-19. Putting off care can leave you even more susceptible to illness and can even be life-threatening.


Managing Chronic Illness During a Pandemic

For some patients living with a chronic illness, the pandemic has restricted their access to adequate care.

Early guidelines from the Centers for Medicare & Medicaid Services (CMS) determined that hospitals should initially defer all “elective” procedures or surgeries in an effort to free up much-needed space in medical facilities and adhere to social distancing protocol. (In most states, hospitals have begun to accept these elective procedures as part of their re-opening efforts.)

Additionally, many high-risk patients—particularly older adults—are fearful they may contract COVID-19 while receiving care in a hospital or clinic setting. Nearly half of Americans have delayed medical care due to worries about COVID-19.

For patients with chronic illness, this fear can be extremely damaging to their health, as many need ongoing disease management to stave off more serious health events. Financial cost aside, these serious health events can be exceptionally dangerous to patients’ lives.

With social distancing protocol and concerns about viral spread in healthcare facilities, normal management strategies may need to change. Most hospitals and healthcare practices have changed their operating procedures to comply with new public health protocols and mandates to stop the spread of infection and protect their patients.

It is imperative for patients with chronic illness to continue receiving regular care during the pandemic.  Patients should reach out to their primary care physicians to learn how to continue their regularly scheduled appointments under social distancing guidelines.



With stay-at-home orders in place, patients are turning to telehealth for relief. Telehealth can be especially helpful for those with chronic illnesses who may need to see a doctor regularly. During a pandemic, telehealth can help patients get the regular check-ups they need without risk of infection. In the future, telehealth can help remove geographic barriers for patients in rural areas.

While it remains slow to catch on (only 39% of patients reported having an option to use telehealth services), it could be a revolutionary option for the future of chronic care.

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