Coronavirus and What do Older Adults and People with Disabilities Need to Know?

Older people are more likely to have serious COVID-19 illness. This may be because immune systems change with age, making it harder to fight off diseases and infection. Older adults also are more likely to have underlying health conditions that make it harder to cope with and recover from illness.

In addition, people of all ages, with or without disabilities, are at higher risk for getting very sick from COVID-19 if they have serious chronic medical conditions like heart, lung or kidney disease.

Reducing exposure is especially important for people at higher risk of complications!

If you are at higher risk, CDC recommends that you:

  • Stay at home as much as possible if COVID-19 is spreading in your community.
  • Make sure you have access to several weeks of medications and supplies in case you need to stay home for prolonged periods of time. CDC has great resources to help you plan.
  • When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
  • Avoid crowds, especially in poorly ventilated spaces.
  • Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel. Stay up to date on CDC Travel Health Notices.
  • Plan now for what you will do if you, or people you rely on for support, become ill.

Words to the wise: Planning is key!

Many states and communities are implementing community actions designed to reduce exposures to COVID-19 and slow the spread of the disease. Creating a household plan can help protect your health and the health of those you care about. You should base the details of your household plan on the needs and daily routine of your household members. CDC’s planning resources can help.

Everyday actions to prevent illness

You can learn more about how the virus spreads here. Everyone, regardless of age or disability, should follow CDC’s recommendations to help prevent the spread of all respiratory diseases, including colds and flu and COVID-19. For example:

  • Comply with local social distancing recommendations!
  • The virus that causes COVID-19 may survive for hours or days on a variety of surfaces. Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces, as well as visibly dirty surfaces.
  • Stay home when you are sick, and avoid close contact with people who are sick.
More everyday actions
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throwing the tissue in the trash.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a face mask.
    • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a face mask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
    • Face masks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to  others. The use of face masks is also crucial for health workers and people who are taking care of someone in close settings (at home or in a health care facility).
  • Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds, especially after going to the bathroom; before eating; and after blowing your nose, coughing, or sneezing.
    • If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol. Always wash hands with soap and water if hands are visibly dirty.
    • For more information, see CDC’s Handwashing website
    • For information specific to healthcare, see CDC’s Hand Hygiene in Healthcare Settings.
On 3/16, President Trump announced The President’s Coronavirus Guidelines for America:  15 Days to Slow the Spread. These are:

  1. Listen to and follow the directions of your state and local authorities.
  2. If you feel sick, stay home.  Do not go to work.  Contact your medical provider.
  3. If your children are sick, keep them at home.  Do not send them to school.  Contact your medical provider.
  4. If someone in your household has tested positive for the coronavirus, keep the entire household at home.  Do not go to work.  Do not go to school.  Contact your medical provider.
  5. If you are an older person, stay home and away from other people.
  6. If you are a person with a serious underlying health condition that can put you at increased risk (for example, a condition that impairs your lung or heart function or weakens your immune system), stay home and away from other people.  E
  7. Even if you are young, or otherwise healthy, you are at risk and your activities can increase the risk for others. It is critical that you do your part to stop the spread of the coronavirus:
    • Work or engage in schooling from home whenever possible.
    • If you work in a critical infrastructure industry, as defined by the Department of Homeland Security, such as healthcare services and pharmaceutical and food supply, you have a special responsibility to maintain your normal work schedule.  You and your employers should follow CDC guidance to protect your health at work.
    • Avoid social gatherings in groups of more than 10 people.
    • Avoid eating or drinking in bars, restaurants, and food courts – use drive-thru, pickup, or delivery options.
    • Avoid discretionary travel, shopping trips, and social visits.
    • Do not visit nursing homes or retirement or long-term care facilities unless to provide critical assistance.
  8. Practice good hygiene:
    • Wash your hands, especially after touching any frequently used item or surface
    • Avoid touching your face.
    • Sneeze or cough into a tissue, or the inside of your elbow.
    • Disinfect frequently used items and surfaces as much as possible.

* School operations can accelerate the spread of the coronavirus.  Governors of states with evidence of community transmission should close schools in affected and surrounding areas.  Governors should close schools in communities that are near areas of community transmission, even if those areas are in neighboring states.  In addition, state and local officials should close schools where coronavirus has been identified in the population associated with the school.  States and localities that close schools need to address childcare needs of critical responders, as well as the nutritional needs of children.

** Older people are particularly at risk from the coronavirus.  All states should follow Federal guidance and halt social visits to nursing homes and retirement and long-term care facilities.

*** In states with evidence of community transmission, bars, restaurants, food courts, gyms, and other indoor and outdoor venues where groups of people congregate should be closed.

Watch for symptoms and emergency warning signs

  • COVID-19 symptoms include fever, cough, and shortness of breath. If you feel like you are developing symptoms, call your doctor.
  • If you develop emergency warning signs for COVID-19 get medical attention immediately. These include:
    • Difficulty breathing or shortness of breath
    • Persistent pain or pressure in the chest
    • New confusion or inability to arouse
    • Bluish lips or face
    • This list is not all inclusive. Consult your medical provider for any other symptom that is severe or concerning.

Follow your state’s guidance

Decisions about community measures will be made by local and state officials, in consultation with federal officials as appropriate,  based on the scope of the outbreak and the severity of illness.  It’s important for everyone to pay close attention to information and instructions published by states. Click on the “state-by-state links” box to find yours (and if we missed something, please send them to us through our web form.)

Information for the Aging and Disability Networks

Statute-specific information

Older Americans Act

Older Americans Act Disaster Relief

On March 13, 2020, the President declared that the ongoing pandemic is of sufficient severity and magnitude to warrant an emergency determination under section 501(b) of the Stafford Act, and that the emergency exists nationwide.

The President also stated that requests for a declaration of a “major disaster” as set forth in section 401(a) of the Stafford Act may be appropriate and encouraged governors and tribal leaders to consider requesting such a declaration. Declaration of a major disaster would trigger disaster relief authority in the Older Americans Act (PDF).

Senior Nutrition Program

New! This question will be added to the next update of the FAQ:

Q. Many congregate meal sites are closed. Will ACL expand the definition of “homebound” to allow home-delivered meals to be provided to the people who usually participate in congregate programs?

A. This is already allowed. Neither federal law nor ACL regulations restrict home-delivered meals to homebound individuals.  In fact, the only eligibility criteria for a home-delivered meal defined in the Older Americans Act is age – the recipient must be at least 60 years old. (ACL regulations do not further define eligibility.)

Eligibility is determined solely by the states and local entities, and states and local entities have the authority and power to waive any eligibility requirements they have established for home-delivered meals.

During this emergency, ACL strongly recommends that any state or local policy that limits eligibility for home-delivered meals should be waived.

Additional Nutrition Resources

State Long-Term Care Ombudsman Program

Other Older Americans Act Programs