Coronavirus: What older people and their loved ones need to know

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Officials are urging everyone over 65 to stay at home as much as possible.

Here are some tips, according to the federal Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, state Department of Public Health and other sources, on what older adults need to know during the COVID-19 pandemic. “Older adult” or “senior citizen” are loose terms, but are generally interpreted during this crisis to mean anyone over 60, which is considered a more vulnerable age group for serious complications from the coronavirus.

Health care: Hospitals and doctors offices were already busy handling the normal flu season, but with the onset of the coronavirus they are now advising that everyone cancel or delay routine medical appointments. Older people who suspect they have COVID-19 — main symptoms include fever, shortness of breath and a cough — should stay at home and call their doctors or local public health departments first to get screened over the phone, then go in for a swab test for the virus if asked to. The doctor’s office or department will advise where to go for the test.

One alternative for non-coronavirus health care consultations is to do them remotely by tele-medicine techniques involving Skype or other means. Ask the doctor’s office or county health department for advice.

Medications: Family members or close friends should know what medications are necessary for their older loved ones, and check in frequently to monitor if seniors are taking them on time or need refills. It’s a good idea to stock up on some prescriptions — seniors should contact their health care providers to see if an extra supply would be warranted in case they need to stay home for an extended period.

Shopping: Seniors should ask a friend or relative to shop for them, and leave the groceries at the door to limit exposure to the virus. Stocking up with a two-week supply of nonperishable food items is recommended in case an extended home quarantine is needed.

If possible, clean the carrying parts of the delivered package, such as the handles, with santitized wipes or spray.

As a last resort, seniors can shop — but should do so carefully and quickly, leaving 6 feet of distance between themselves and other people, wearing gloves or using hand sanitizer liberally after every interaction.

Caregivers: Visiting nurses, home health aides and other caregivers should take extra precautions, including using gloves or washing hands regularly and wiping down surfaces often. Seniors or their family or friends should talk with caregivers about this, and make sure they have contact information for the caregivers and vice-versa. They should also have a backup plan in case a caregiver becomes ill and can’t show up.

Long-term care facilities: Nursing homes and other long-term care facilities should bar all visitors, with the possible exception of emergency or end-of-life visits from family, and severely restrict trips out.

Isolation: It’s important for older people and their family and friends to stay connected by phone, email or video such as Skype, to help stave off worry and feelings of loneliness.

Travel: Avoid travel on airplanes, cruise ships, public transit or other settings where exposure to the virus will be heightened.

Scams: Beware of phone calls and emails offering cures or preventatives for the coronavirus. Take advice on such matters only from a doctor or health department. Calling the doctor or department directly is the best way to do that.

Also, be wary of anyone emailing, calling or coming to the door unsolicited — such as people saying they are representing charities seeking donations, or an organization that will cut off service unless it gets money. Criminals ramp up scams in times of crisis like this, and the best solution is to disengage and, if need be, find the legitimate contact information independently and reach out that way.

Chronicle staff writer Greg Thomas contributed to this report.

Kevin Fagan is a San Francisco Chronicle staff writer. Email: