The novel coronavirus COVID-19 struck fear in the hearts and minds of millions of people across the globe beginning in late 2019, and continued to do so well into 2020. Some people feared getting sick, while others feared losing their livelihoods. For the world’s caregivers, fear inspired by COVID-19 struck an entirely different note.
According to the Family Caregiver Alliance, about 44 million Americans provide 37 billion hours of unpaid, “informal” care each year for adult family members and friends with chronic illnesses or conditions that prevent them from handling everyday activities like bathing and preparing meals. Caregiving is a tall task even in otherwise ideal settings, but has proven especially difficult during the COVID-19 outbreak.
The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention note that older adults and people with serious chronic medical conditions are among the most vulnerable to COVID-19. Sadly, many such people require caregivers to meet their daily needs.
This puts caregivers in unenviable positions, as the CDC has encouraged social distancing and limiting contact with the elderly in particular, as a means of protecting those who are especially vulnerable to the potentially deadly COVID-19 virus.
For many caregivers, avoiding someone they look after is simply not possible. In such instances, certain strategies can help caregivers as they tend to sick and/or elderly relatives during the COVID-19 outbreak.
• Caregivers should not be at-risk populations. The CDC notes that people with chronic lung disease; people with moderate to severe asthma; people who have serious heart conditions; people who are immunocompromised, including smokers and organ transplant recipients, among others; people with severe obesity; people with diabetes; people with chronic kidney disease undergoing dialysis; and people with liver disease are at high-risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Such people should not be serving as caregivers during the COVID-19 outbreak.
• Wear gloves when caring for your friend or relative. The CDC urges caregivers to wear gloves when they touch or have contact with a person’s blood, stool, or body fluids, such as saliva, mucus, vomit and urine. The CDC also recommends asking the people they are caring for to put on a cloth face covering before caregivers enter the room. Caregivers also can wear face coverings when tending to loved ones.
• Wash your hands frequently. The Rosalynn Carter Institute for Caregiving recommends that caregivers wash their hands frequently. Do so for no less than 20 seconds, and always do so immediately after entering a loved one’s home.
• Take care of yourself. The CDC notes that some people may have COVID-19 even though they are not exhibiting any symptoms. In fact, some scientists have theorized that the virus has spready so quickly because so many infected people are asymptomatic. But it’s imperative that people in caregiving roles prioritize their own health, which not only protects them but also the people they’re looking after. Watch for symptoms such as cough, shortness of breath, fever, chills, muscle pain, sore throat and/or new loss of taste or smell. If any such symptoms arise, arrange for someone else to assume your caregiving responsibilities. In addition, eat healthy, get enough sleep and exercise regularly so your immune system stays as strong as possible.