What you need to know about Coronavirus and flu

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We are all concerned about the spread of Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) which happens to be occurring at the same time as flu season. We know that flu can be deadly for older adults, as we have many years of data that confirm this, as well as vaccines to help us avoid becoming infected – or at least to minimize symptoms and longevity of the flu if we do become infected. But the Coronavirus that is spreading now is considered "novel," which means this type of Coronavirus has never before been identified, and the world's health community is still working to understand fully how the virus affects those who are infected and how it spreads.

Older adults at higher risk

The National Council on Aging (NCOA) reports that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has identified older adults and people who have severe chronic medical conditions like heart, lung, or kidney disease at higher risk for more serious COVID-19 illness. According to the CDC, early data suggest older people are twice as likely to have serious COVID-19 illness.

The NCOA says this is likely because as people age, their immune systems change, making it harder for their body to fight off diseases and infection, and because many older adults are also more likely to have underlying health conditions that make it harder to cope with and recover from illness. Age increases the risk that the respiratory system or lungs will shut down when an older person has COVID-19 disease.

Coronavirus basics

What is coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19)?
Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) is a respiratory illness that can spread from person to person. The virus that causes COVID-19 is a novel coronavirus that was first identified during an investigation into an outbreak in Wuhan, China.

Can people in the U.S. get COVID-19?
Yes. COVID-19 is spreading from person to person in parts of the United States. Risk of infection with COVID-19 is higher for people who are close contacts of someone known to have COVID-19, for example healthcare workers, or household members. Other people at higher risk for infection are those who live in or have recently been in an area with ongoing spread of COVID-19. Learn more about places with ongoing spread on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (DCD), here.

Have there been cases of COVID-19 in the U.S.?
Yes. The first case of COVID-19 in the United States was reported on January 21, 2020. The current count of cases of COVID-19 in the United States is available on CDC’s webpage.

How does COVID-19 spread?
The virus that causes COVID-19 probably emerged from an animal source, but is now spreading from person to person. The virus is thought to spread mainly between people who are in close contact with one another (within about 6 feet) through respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs or sneezes. It also may be possible that a person can get COVID-19 by touching a surface or object that has the virus on it and then touching their own mouth, nose, or possibly their eyes, but this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Learn what is known about the spread of newly emerged coronaviruses here.

What are the symptoms of COVID-19?
Patients with COVID-19 have had mild to severe respiratory illness with symptoms of

  • fever
  • cough
  • shortness of breath

What are severe complications from this virus?
Some patients have pneumonia in both lungs, multi-organ failure and in some cases death.

Is there a vaccine?
There is currently no vaccine to protect against COVID-19. The best way to prevent infection is to take everyday preventive actions, like avoiding close contact with people who are sick and washing your hands often.

Is there a treatment?
There is no specific antiviral treatment for COVID-19. People with COVID-19 can seek medical care to help relieve symptoms.

Preventing illness from viruses such as COVID-19 and the flu

The best way to prevent illness is to avoid being exposed to this virus. However the CDC always recommends everyday preventive actions to help prevent the spread of respiratory diseases, including:

  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick.
  • Avoid touching your eyes, nose, and mouth.
  • Stay home when you are sick.
  • Cover your cough or sneeze with a tissue, then throw the tissue in the trash.
  • Clean and disinfect frequently touched objects and surfaces using a regular household cleaning spray or wipe.
  • Follow CDC’s recommendations for using a facemask.
  • CDC does not recommend that people who are well wear a facemask to protect themselves from respiratory diseases, including COVID-19.
  • Facemasks should be used by people who show symptoms of COVID-19 to help prevent the spread of the disease to others. The use of facemasks 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.

Current recommendations for older adults and others at higher risk

The CDC and local public health officials recommend that people at higher risk follow the prevention tips above, and also take the following actions:

  • Stock up on supplies.
  • Take everyday precautions to keep space between yourself and others.
  • When you go out in public, keep away from others who are sick, limit close contact and wash your hands often.
  • Avoid crowds as much as possible.
  • Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
  • During a COVID-19 outbreak in your community, stay home as much as possible to further reduce your risk of being exposed.
  • Stay up to date on CDC Travel Health Notices.

What Older Adults Need to Know About Coronavirus from the CDC:

Have questions about COVID-19?

The Ohio Department of Health has opened a call center for the public to ask questions about COVID-19. It's available seven days a week, 9 am-8 pm at 1-833-4-ASK-ODH (1-833-427-5634).

COVID-19 Myths
Wondering if a rumor you've heard about COVID-19  is true? Check out the World Health Organization's Myth Busters web page.


For complete and up-to-date information about the rapidly evolving situation with COVID-19, or more information about preventing flu and the current prevalence of flu, visit these resources:

Center for Disease Control and Prevention Coronavirus Website

Ohio Department of Health Coronavirus Information for the Public

Centers for Disease Control and Prevention Flu Information

Ohio Department of Health Flu Information

National Council on Aging Coronavirus Information

Sources: Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, National Council on Aging, Ohio Department of Health