The US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday updated and expanded its list of who is at risk of developing severe illness from COVID-19—emphasizing that it’s not just the elderly who suffer from the disease.
Most noticeably, the CDC removed the specific age threshold of 65 and over for those considered at risk of severe COVID-19—that is, those requiring hospitalization, intensive care, ventilation, or those who die from the disease.
Now, the agency emphasizes that there is a gradient of risk based on age. In other words, there is some risk at any age, but that risk increases with age. A 50-year-old will have more risk than a 40-year-old, and a 60-year-old is at higher risk than someone in their 50s. The greatest risk is seen in those aged 85 and over.
In addition to age, having certain underlying health conditions has also been a clear factor that increases risk of severe illness. From the outset of the pandemic, public health experts have focused on those with cardiovascular disease, diabetes, chronic respiratory disease, and obesity.
In the updated guidance, the CDC refined and expanded the list of health conditions that lead to high risk based on the latest data. The list now stands at:
- Chronic kidney disease
- COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
- Obesity (BMI of 30 or higher)
- Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system) from solid organ transplant
- Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
- Sickle cell disease
- Type 2 diabetes
“These changes increase the number of people who fall into higher risk groups,” the CDC noted in its announcement of the updated guidance.
And people who have multiple conditions on the list have even higher risks—the more conditions, the more risk.
Last, the agency clarified conditions that might increase a person’s risk for developing severe COVID-19. Those conditions include: asthma, high blood pressure, smoking, Type 1 diabetes, liver disease, pregnancy, cystic fibrosis, neurologic conditions such as dementia, and cerebrovascular diseases such as stroke.
The CDC noted that a new study, also published Thursday, suggests that pregnant women with COVID-19 are at an increased risk of hospitalization compared with nonpregnant women with the disease. However, as The New York Times notes, the threshold for hospitalizing women is different if they’re pregnant versus not pregnant. The study found no differences in death rates between pregnant and nonpregnant women with COVID-19.
Understanding who is most at risk is critical to protecting their health, the CDC said, adding further:
Everyone should continue to do their part to implement prevention strategies, such as focusing on activities where social distancing can be maintained, washing your hands frequently, limiting contact with and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces or shared items, and wearing a cloth face covering when you are around people you do not live with, especially when it is difficult to stay 6 feet apart or when people are indoors. By taking these steps, you can help protect yourself, your loved ones, and others around you, including those most vulnerable to severe illness.