Tips to Live By

Caregiving During COVID: How to Care for Someone Vulnerable to Severe Illness

May 11, 2020 - Katie McCallum

Being a caregiver to a loved one is an incredibly rewarding experience, yet it's often also a challenging one. For some, the COVID-19 pandemic has made the role of caretaker even more complicated — especially as experts warn that the new coronavirus will be living among us for some time.

Anyone can become infected with the new coronavirus, but some people are more susceptible to developing severe symptoms or complications as a result of infection. Public health leaders are advising these more vulnerable individuals to take extra precautions to reduce their risk of getting sick with COVID-19.

These extra precautions include staying home and away from other people as much as possible, even as statewide restrictions are lifted — which will continue to present unique challenges if you're a caretaker of someone who's high risk.

And while you've probably got the grocery and meal delivery routine down, what about everything else?

Whether you're taking care of someone who's more vulnerable to COVID-19 and/or you're more vulnerable yourself, here's what to consider as you adjust to caregiving during the COVID-19 pandemic.

Know the symptoms of COVID-19

Oftentimes your role as a caretaker means you're in charge of making health care decisions for your loved one. During the COVID-19 pandemic, this probably also means you're on high alert for any upper respiratory symptoms your loved one may experience. But, there's also the common cold, flu and seasonal allergies.

Knowing which symptoms separate COVID-19 from other common respiratory illnesses can help you make the right health care decision if your loved one does start to show symptoms.

The most common symptoms of COVID-19, include:

  • Fever
  • Dry cough
  • Shortness of breath


In addition to knowing these symptoms, it's also important to know what to do if you're concerned that your loved one may have COVID-19.

Lastly, keep in mind that it's a good idea to head to your nearest emergency room if your loved one is experiencing severe COVID-19 symptoms, including:

  • Severe shortness of breath
  • Low blood pressure
  • Elevated heart rate (above 100 bpm)
  • Dehydration
  • Profound weakness
  • High fever


Keep tabs on chronic health conditions

Given the gravity of the current situation, it's easy to let your main focus become preventing your loved one from getting sick with COVID-19. But, managing his or her chronic health conditions is as important as ever right now, and an emergency is still an emergency during a pandemic.

To ensure that your loved one's overall health remains under control, consider getting him or her stocked up on over-the-counter medications, medical supplies and healthy foods. You may also want to ask your loved one's health care provider to prescribe extra medications to have on hand in case coronavirus is spreading, or begins spreading again, in your community.

If a chronic health condition seems to be worsening, call or consider scheduling a video visit with his or her doctor or specialist for guidance. If your loved one needs urgent care, there are several telemedicine options you can use to get care quickly without ever leaving home, including Houston Methodist Virtual Urgent Care and E-Visits.

While it's best for those who are high risk to stay at home as much as possible, it's still important to get immediate medical attention in an emergency. If you're concerned about bringing a vulnerable loved one to the emergency room, know that emergency rooms are safe and taking extra precautions to prevent the spread of COVID-19. It may also be helpful to know what's considered an emergency, as well as what can wait, so you're not taking your loved one out of their home unnecessarily.

You may want to be extra cautious, too

As a caregiver, keeping a vulnerable loved one safe during the COVID-19 pandemic may mean taking extra precautions yourself — even if you're low risk and as restrictions begin to ease.

Experts estimate that about 25% of people who are infected with coronavirus show no symptoms but are still contagious. While you may feel fine, the possibility remains that you could unknowingly spread COVID-19 to your vulnerable loved one. And this possibility increases the more you put yourself in situations where you're more likely to be exposed to the virus.

This means it's important to take steps to ensure your likelihood of being exposed to coronavirus remains low. Even if you're low risk, consider staying home as much as possible and committing to social distancing and wearing a cloth mask when you do go out in public.

In addition, taking extra precautions reduces your risk of getting COVID-19 — ensuring that you can continue to be there for your loved one throughout the pandemic. If you do start showing signs of COVID-19, seek medical guidance right away so you can be sure you don't pass the illness to your loved one. Be sure to let your health care provider know that you're a caretaker of someone who's more vulnerable to developing a severe case COVID-19.

Designate a backup caregiver

A COVID-19 diagnosis means you will need to self-quarantine for two weeks. During this time, someone else will need to take care of your loved one. To plan ahead in the event that you do get COVID-19, you may want to designate a backup caregiver and make sure he or she is fully equipped to take care of your loved one.

Make sure this secondary caregiver knows your loved one's:

  • Medication information and schedule
  • Chronic health conditions
  • Doctors' phone numbers
  • Grocery and supply list
  • Unique lifestyle needs


Concerned you may have COVID-19?

  • If you're experiencing COVID-19 symptoms, you can speak to a Virtual Urgent Care provider 24/7. The provider will help you determine if testing is needed and advise you on where you should go.
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