SARS-CoV-2 is similar to other coronaviruses, like the ones that cause the common cold - and shares many of the same risk factors. It is spread by infected people, who often don't know they are infected because they have no symptoms (asymptomatic) or because their own symptoms have not yet developed. Broadly speaking, our chances of catching this disease are greater if we:
Unfortunately, these factors also seem to raise the chances of having a more severe case of COVID-19.
While there is still much to learn about COVID-19, as of this writing, there is general agreement that these underlying medical conditions are associated with more severe COVID-19 symptoms are:
People with these conditions may also be more at risk for severe COVID-19: (it's still unclear)
See the links below for instructions (including disease-specific action plans) on how to protect yourself if you have any of these conditions.
As we learn more about COVID-19, it appears that although people of all ages can transmit the virus, disease symptoms tend to be more severe in older people. As this graph of case data from Wuhan China in February 2020 shows, while more adults in middle age catch COVID-19, the death rate is highest in older people. While older adults tend to also have chronic health conditions, or to be living in care centers, the number of fatalities among healthy seniors is higher than can expected from those factors alone.
At the same time, case data from many different states in the U.S. show that Black and Latinx people are more likely to catch COVID-19 and to have more serious illness. Not all, but some Native reservations in the U.S. have been among the hardest hit by this disease.
Vulnerable jobs: Heathcare workers are one of the most at-risk professions for severe COVID-19 illness. By treating sick patients, they have much greater exposure to the novel coronavirus than most people (a much higher viral load). The lack of personal protective equipment (PPE), supplies, and disinfecting policies in many settings at the beginning of the pandemic may have increased infection rates. Grocery store workers, cashiers, bus drivers and taxi drivers also have higher rates of infection than the general public, for similar reasons.
The CDC, state, and local health departments have directives on what employers and employees should do to avoid spreading the novel coronavirus.
People with disabilities (physical, cognitive, behavioral or developmental) that make their activities of daily living more difficult for them - or who are dependent on other people for help with their activities of daily living - are also more vulnerable. See the links below for protections (including disease-specific action plans) for these conditions.
Children are not especially vulnerable to COVID-19, but families with young kids are. Because children tend to have little or no symptoms while they have active COVID-19 infections, they can spread the novel coronavirus as widely as they do coronavirus that cause the common cold. Rarely, some children sick with COVID-19 experience multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C), which can be quite serious - but is treatable.
People living in large households and people without stable housing are also more likely to be exposed to the coronavirus, and/or to be more vulnerable to infection. (For links to Bay Area pandemic housing resources and resources for unhoused people, see the box for Economic relief on this page of our guide.)
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