Older Americans, especially those with underlying health conditions, should stockpile supplies and avoid unnecessary travel, a top official at the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) said Monday.
Most Americans are likely at risk of catching the novel strain of the coronavirus, said Nancy Messonnier, director of the CDC’s National Center for Immunization and Respiratory Diseases. Older Americans are especially susceptible to serious outcomes.
"As the trajectory of the outbreak continues, many people in the U.S. will at some point in time this year or next be exposed to this virus, and there’s a good chance many will become sick," Messonnier said. "The reason to stock up now is to kind of stick close to home."
Messonnier said global data from Japan and South Korea show that people younger than 60 generally have better outcomes if they catch the virus.
However, people older than 60 are at higher risk for serious illness, especially if they have underlying health conditions such as diabetes, heart disease or lung disease, Messonnier said.
Younger people with underlying health problems are also at risk, but older people with health problems are the most vulnerable.
She added that her parents are in their 80s, and even though they don't live in an area where there is currently community spread of the virus, she advised them to stay close to home.
"The highest risk is those who are older and with underlying health conditions," Messonnier said. "I think if you're in one of those groups, separately or together, you need to be thinking towards what personal protections you want to take."
Messonnier's warning follows new guidance from the CDC that emphasized that older adults and people with underlying health conditions are most at risk for severe disease caused by the coronavirus, and should avoid crowded places, long plane trips and “especially” cruise ships.
Health officials have steadily ratcheted up their warnings to the public, even as some in the Trump administration attempt to downplay the severity and impact of the virus. Officials have also begun moving toward a strategy of mitigation, after efforts to contain the virus to just a few areas have failed.
According to Johns Hopkins University, there are more than 600 cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. with at least 22 deaths.