We just completed a challenging and difficult calendar year—2020—but there is hope, a bright light at the end of this long tunnel. A COVID-19 vaccine was approved by the FDA and rolled out in mid-December. Another vaccine is in the pipeline for approval, which may occur before this article is published.
Those on the frontlines of fighting this virus—healthcare workers—were the first to receive the vaccine. Residents and staff of long-term care facilities will be next. Nursing homes have been hit hard by COVID-19. Older adults, especially those with chronic health conditions, are particularly vulnerable to this virus.
The vaccine and the promise of another are welcome news, a positive start to preventing COVID-19.
When will things return to normal?
It won’t be soon, cautions Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s top infectious diseases expert. The approval and distribution of the coronavirus vaccine is great news, but that doesn’t mean the end of the pandemic.
“It’s not going to be like turning a light switch on and off,” Fauci said during a virtual health event. “It’s going to be gradual, and I think we will know when we see the level of infection in the country at a dramatically lower level than it is right now that we can start gradually tiptoeing toward normality.”
“I don’t believe we’re going to be able to throw the masks away and forget about physical separation in congregate settings for a while, probably likely until we get into the late fall and early next winter. But I think we can do it,” Fauci said.
Experts estimate that about 70 percent to 75 percent of us must be vaccinated before we get to immunity. That translates to around 230 million to 250 million U.S. residents. We must give time for the vaccine to be distributed and for people to be vaccinated. Additionally, both the approved vaccines require two doses. If all goes well, the best estimates are that it will be late spring to early summer before most of us receive the vaccine.
What do we do in the meantime?
We must continue, as Dr. Fauci encourages, to wear masks, practice physical distancing, not congregate in large groups, and practice regular, thorough hand washing. We must prepare for the possibility of a COVID-19 infection. It will take some time for us to see the vaccine’s full effectiveness.
Be prepared—assemble an at-home emergency care kit
Most cases of COVID don’t require a hospital stay, so we should have these items on hand in anticipation of an infection and recovery at home. These items are also handy if you have been exposed to an infected person and need to quarantine. Prepare ahead of a possible infection!
Safety & Cleaning Supplies:
- Hand sanitizer and/or sanitizing wipes
- Single-use latex or nitrile rubber protective gloves
- Face masks—disposable and/or washable
- Laundry detergent—enough for daily laundering (in hot water) of bedding and clothing of person who is ill
- Plenty of paper towels, tissues, and toilet paper
- A pulse oximeter and batteries (measure heart rate and blood oxygen levels, an important indicator of lung function)
- Cough drops
- OTC cold medicine
- Fever reducers
- Saline nose spray
- First aid essentials like bandages, topical anti-itch and antibiotic ointments, to avoid trips to the pharmacy
- Keep a notebook nearby to track the sick person’s temperature, oxygen saturation levels (pulse oximeter reading) and other symptoms
Food and Drink:
- Healthy, ready-made food
- Broth, warm tea, water, electrolyte replacement drinks—need to stay hydrated
- Daily multivitamin and vitamin C
- Honey for sore throat
- Pectin-rich foods like apples and bananas (to combat diarrhea, a common symptom and side effect of COVID-19)
- High calorie, nutrient-rich foods such as avocadoes and applesauce (appetite will be low, but important to eat)
- “And never underestimate the power of chicken soup,” says Dr. Mark Hyman of the Cleveland Clinic Center for Functional Medicine. “Protein is very important when fighting viral illness.”
Designate in Advance:
- Ideally, a separate bedroom and bathroom for anyone who’s ill. Healthy family members—and pets—should stay outside that space if possible. Have disinfecting wipes, paper towels and soap bedside.
- List of names, phone numbers and email addresses for family, friends, neighbors, healthcare providers, pharmacy, local health department and other community resources
- Include resources for food and supplies
- Write down important passwords that might come in handy
- Have copies of your insurance cards, ID, advance directive, and power of attorney paperwork handy, in case you have to go to the hospital
- If you live alone, arrange to check in with a friend or relative regularly. Here’s a helpful article from Aging Wisdom colleague Jullie Gray: 5 Tips for Solo Agers During Coronavirus.
For additional resources, visit the Washington State Department of Health COVID-19 Vaccine Information (regular updates); UW Medicine COVID-19 (up-to-date information about care and services); UW Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) COVID-19 Resources; and the CDC Coronavirus (COVID-19) resource webpage.
Contributor Keri Pollock directs marketing and communications for Aging Wisdom, a care management, consultation and creative engagement practice based in Seattle. She is a member of the Age Friendly Coalition for Seattle and King County, serves on the Advisory Committee of the Frye Art Museum Creative Aging Programs, and the Marcom Council of the Alzheimer’s Association, Washington State Chapter.