Safety tips for people at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19

Safety tips for people at high risk of serious illness from COVID-19

Learn how vulnerable individuals can decrease their chances of getting COVID-19 while continuing to meet life-sustaining needs 


  • Older adults and people who have underlying health conditions are at a higher risk of becoming severely ill and experiencing complications from COVID-19.
  • The best way to reduce the risk of COVID-19 infection and related complications is to stay home as much as possible and follow public health guidelines.
  • Following safety precautions when going to the doctor, and getting groceries, medications, and supplies can lower your risk of getting COVID-19.

We continue to learn more about COVID-19. We know that people of all ages can get COVID-19, and the respiratory virus affects people in different ways. Although many people with COVID-19 experience mild symptoms and can safely recover at home, older adults and people who have other health conditions are at a higher risk of becoming severely ill and experiencing complications from COVID-19.

If you or your loved one is at high risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19, you may be understandably concerned. Here are things you need to know about risk factors for COIVD-19 complications, as well as suggestions for how you can lower the chances of infection.

Who is at high risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19?

Adults over the age of 65 are at a higher risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has reported that 8 out of 10 COVID-19 deaths in the United States have been in adults 65 years old and older.

Older adults who live in nursing homes are at especially high risk of COVID-19 infection due to living in close proximity to others. Nursing home residents often have other health conditions that put them at higher risk of developing COVID-19-related complications.

People of any age are at risk of serious illness from COVID-19 if they have health conditions, including:

  • Lung conditions, such as moderate or severe asthma, chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD), lung cancer, and other respiratory disorders.
  • Heart disease, such as high blood pressure, stroke, coronary artery disease, heart failure, or a personal history of heart attack.
  • Diabetes, including Type 1 and Type 2 diabetes.
  • Weakened immune systems caused by cancer treatment, bone marrow or organ transplantation, immune deficiencies, HIV/AIDS, or prolonged use of medications such as corticosteroids.
  • Obesity, especially if body mass index is 40 or higher.
  • Chronic kidney disease, especially if undergoing dialysis.
  • Liver disease

How can I protect myself or my loved one from COVID-19 infection?

If you or your loved one is at high risk for COVID-19 complications, the best way to reduce the risk of contracting COVID-19 is to avoid contact with people who do not live in your household by staying home as much as possible. Follow public health guidelines, including recommendations for social distancing, proper hand hygiene, cleaning and sanitizing of surfaces, and wearing a mask when out in public. See Nuvance Health’s COVID-19 FAQs for a complete list of ways to reduce the risk of possible exposure to COVID-19.

Related article: Social Distancing Q&A

You can also take care of your immune system and overall well-being by getting regular exercise, managing stress, eating a balanced, healthy diet, and getting plenty of quality sleep.

Related article: Exercise is essential for well-being during COVID-19 pandemic

How can I safely get groceries, supplies, and medications?

Even if you do your best to avoid going out as much as possible, you will still have to get supplies and groceries, as well as obtain medications. Here are a few tips to help you stay safe while performing these life-sustaining tasks:

Grocery safety tips

Minimize contact with others by using online shopping services with “contactless” delivery options as much as possible. If delivery is unavailable, consider using drive-thru or in-store pickup services to minimize the length of time you spend in the store and the number of people you encounter.

If you must go to the store, consider shopping during less crowded times, stocking up on at least a week’s worth of food and supplies, and making a list before your trip to help you shop quickly and efficiently. Wear a mask, wipe cart handles with a sanitizing wipe before use, and follow social distancing recommendations. Also, consider shopping at a store that offers special shopping hours for people at high risk of COVID-19 complications.

Use hand sanitizer immediately after leaving the store. Wash your hands immediately after unloading your groceries at home, wash your fruits and vegetables, and consider wiping down packaging — as well as your mobile phone, credit card, or other items that you touched during your trip — with a sanitizing wipe before putting them away.

Takeout safety tips

Use contact-less takeout delivery options as much as possible. If you must leave home to pick up takeout, use contact-less drive-thru services if possible. If you must enter a store to pick up your food, be sure to wear a mask and follow social distancing recommendations. Wash your hands as soon as you get home. Transfer food from the takeout containers to other bowls and plates and then throw away the containers. Make sure you wash your hands again before eating.

Pharmacy safety tips

Mail-order pharmacies will deliver prescription medications directly to your door. Some local pharmacies may also offer contactless delivery. However, you may need to contact your physician to request that your prescriptions are sent to a pharmacy that offers these options. You should also be sure to have at least a 30-day supply of prescription and over-the-counter medications on hand.

If you need to visit the pharmacy to pick up medications, try to use the drive-thru instead of going inside the store. If you must go inside the store, follow the same steps as you would for a grocery store outing.

Should I still go to my doctor’s appointment?

Routine exams or follow-up medical appointments are necessary for your preventive and continued health. If you have questions about whether you should go to your doctor’s appointment, the best thing to do is call your doctor. You should let your doctor know if you have any health conditions that increase your risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19.

Your doctor will let you know if you need to be seen in the office, or if you can schedule a Virtual Visit. Nuvance Health offers Virtual Visits so you can have a remote consultation with your doctor using a computer or mobile device. For more information, to schedule an appointment, or to find a doctor, visit

Please don’t delay emergency care if you’re experiencing signs of heart attack, stroke, or another health concern that may require immediate attention, such as an allergic reaction or broken bone. Nuvance Health emergency departments have strict protocols in place to keep patients who need emergency care safe, such as cohorting and separation of patients according to symptoms.

Call 911 if you’re experiencing what could be life-threatening symptoms such as trouble breathing; persistent pain or pressure in the chest; new confusion or inability to wake up; or bluish lips or face.

Related article: How to safely get the health care you need during the COVID-19 pandemic

What else is important for me to know?

Please know that it’s okay to ask for help, especially during this public health emergency. If you need help getting supplies, think about family, friends, and neighbors who might be able to safely assist you. Please call your doctor if you have medical questions or concerns.

Be sure to stay in touch with friends, neighbors, and loved ones using phone, video, and social media. Staying connected to others will help us get through this together.

The bottom line: People who are at high risk of becoming seriously ill from COVID-19 should avoid contact with others by staying home as much as possible. However, taking certain safety precautions can help these individuals lower their risk of infection when visiting the doctor and getting groceries, takeout, medications, and supplies.

Nuvance Health is keeping the communities informed on our website at, and on social media @NuvanceHealth, or search for your hospital’s name. 

The observations and information in this article are for educational purposes only, do not constitute medical advice, and do not replace advice of your healthcare clinician.