Are People with Disabilities More at Risk of COVID-19?
While it’s clear that COVID-19 has changed life as we know it, it’s unclear just how much it’s impacting certain demographics, such as individuals with disabilities. Initial research reveals that the pandemic has increased psychological distress across the board. Physical distancing and economical impacts have their own consequences, but marginalized populations such as individuals with disabilities have even less access to supportive networks and resources.
According to National Academies of Science, Engineering, and Medicine, social isolation and loneliness have data that shows increased heart disease, dementia, and other health issues.
Are People with Disabilities More at Risk?
While most people with disabilities are healthy, they may have other conditions alongside their disability that might make them at risk such as suppressed immune systems or respiratory concerns. Others may have underlying acute health conditions. These issues increase the likelihood of more severe symptoms of COVID-19.
What’s It Like Being “High Risk” with a Disability?
Once classified as being “high risk,” most people report higher stress and additional fear. This can be due to the reality of medical discrimination. Many individuals with disabilities experience discrimination when they seek healthcare, and some new policies could prevent fair treatment for people with disabilities. According to the National Disability Institute, approximately 60% of disabled adults reported being “very concerned” about their healthcare in light of the pandemic.
Studies show that adults with disabilities are three times more likely to have heart disease, diabetes, or cancer than adults without disabilities. This means that most individuals with disabilities may be at “high risk” for COVID-19.
How Can People with Disabilities Protect Themselves?
While we know the everyday preventive measures to follow in order to remain healthy, there are a few more options that individuals with disabilities can exercise.
1) Verbally check with the people in your community to make sure that they are not experiencing any COVID-19 symptoms or being in contact with someone who has had the virus.
2) Request that hand washing occurs upon entering your home and before touching you.
3) Disinfect frequently used objects and surfaces, such as the following:
a. Counters and table tops
b. Doorknobs and bathroom fixtures
c. Phones, keyboards, and tablets
d. Mobility equipment: wheelchairs, scooters, walkers, canes, oxygen tanks, assistive devices
4) Create a plan for if your direct support provider becomes ill with COVID-19 or something else.
a. Write a list of people to provide care.
b. Have two ways of communicating, whether cell phone, email, landline phone, or text messages.
c. Keep enough supplies at home that you could stay home for a few weeks without problem.
Without a vaccine against COVID-19, the best prevention is avoiding close contact with other people who may be sick and washing your hands often. Those who do become ill with COVID-19 may seek medical care to help relieve symptoms, but otherwise, the virus has no specific antiviral treatment.
This virus is especially scary due to how quickly it spreads. And this can be more terrifying for individuals who have been classified as high risk.
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