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What it means to be ‘high-risk’ for COVID-19 — and why you shouldn’t delay treatment
General Wellness

What it means to be ‘high-risk’ for COVID-19 — and why you shouldn’t delay treatment

By Your Health staff
Posted: May 28, 2020

The health crisis caused by the COVID-19 pandemic has and continues to weigh heavily on our community. We are in the recovery phase, but that does not mean we are out of the woods.

The risk of infection still exists — and that risk is higher for some than it is for others. Those at higher risk included people who are age 65 and older, those living in nursing homes or long-term care facilities and individuals with underlying medical conditions.

Several of our Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare medical experts hosted a virtual town hall on Facebook in early May. Much of the conversation focused on people in our community who are at a high risk of contracting COVID-19 — and the actions they should take to protect and manage their health.

The underlying conditions — which you might hear referred to as comorbidities — include asthma, chronic lung disease, diabetes, serious heart conditions, chronic kidney disease, severe obesity, liver disease, HIV and those who are immunocompromised. Read more about the implications for each condition on the CDC's website.

“When you’re talking about demographics with any disease — and COVID-19 is no different — you have to look at it through a scientific lens,” Dr. Jeff Mullins, a Primary Care Physician for Methodist Medical Group, said during the town hall.

“I think is important because then you start to see the patients that have diabetes, patients that have hypertension, certainly patients with respiratory illnesses, patients with autoimmune disease, patients on chemotherapy — they all have something in common, and that’s that their bodies are not going to fight off a sudden and severe viral infection.”

Research is ongoing, but the CDC says current data shows “a disproportionate burden of illness and death among racial and ethnic minority groups.”

The agency shared statistics from a report regarding hospitalization rates and characteristics of patients hospitalized with confirmed cases of COVID-19. The data suggests there is an “overrepresentation” of African Americans among hospitalized patients — meaning a higher percentage of African American patients with COVID-19 had to be hospitalized as compared to other races.

The study showed death rates were higher for African American and Hispanic/Latino patients compared to white and Asian patients.

The CDC cited economic and social conditions — like living conditions, work circumstances and underlying health conditions and lower access to care — as factors that influence health differences between racial and ethnic minority groups. You can read more from the CDC here.

Dr. Mullins cited socioeconomic barriers and the prevalence of risk factors in underserved communities during the town hall. You can watch the entire broadcast here.

“I think traditionally we’ve worked on doing a better job at providing access — Methodist in particular — to not just African Americans, but anybody in our community,” Dr. Mullins said. “I think what we’re starting to see is that we’re able to treat just about anybody that has COVID-19.”


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A major hurdle for physicians has been patients’ fear of COVID-19. Some people are afraid of going the hospital or to their doctor’s office for treatment because they don’t want to risk contracting the virus.

“Our main interest is in patient safety, but patient safety is so much more than simply protecting (patients) from being unnecessarily exposed or exposed at all to COVID-19,” Dr. Mullins said. “We’ve seen an upsurge in hospitalizations, and some with poor outcomes, because of fear of seeking medical care during the pandemic.”

People with underlying conditions can be treated quite effectively with consistent care and good follow-ups. Although these same patients are considered “high risk” if they get COVID-19, they shouldn’t defer treatment out of fear.

“If we ignore their chronic disease states, and don’t see them in the office, draw their labs, listen to their heart and lungs and ask them how they’re doing and look for problems, then we can see some pretty bad outcomes,” Dr. Mullins explained.

Dr. Cassandra Howard, Chief Medical Officer, for Methodist Le Bonheur Germantown Hospital, echoed the same message during the town hall.

“I would strongly encourage you not to delay care,” Dr. Howard said. “There are many conditions that are better treated with a better outcome if you take advantage of that lead time and get ahead of it by doing it sooner rather than later.”

In the Methodist Le Bonheur Healthcare system, there have been cases where patients waited too long to seek care.

“We’ve seen some people who have waited just a little too long because they’re crippled by fear,” Dr. Howard said. “Be proactive.”

Dr. Mullins even shared the story of a patient who had a stroke but didn’t go to the emergency room until 24 hours later.

“Unfortunately, he didn’t receive any thrombectomy or TPA treatment, and now his neuro deficit will be permanent,” Dr. Mullins said. “He didn’t come because he was afraid he would catch COVID-19.”

The panelists wanted to drive home the point about safety at our hospitals, primary care offices and out-patient facilities — in an effort to ensure people seek care and manage their health responsibly.

“We have a wonderful medical staff. We have tried to do our best to convey that your safe, our safety, your family’s safety and the community’s safety is our number one factor that’s driving our behavior — so we have prepared a place for you to come that is safe,” Dr. Howard said. “Don’t delay your care and risk potentially suffering unnecessary consequences or long-term health effects because of fear.”