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What You Need to Know About the Coronavirus

Over 95 percent of Americans killed by COVID-19 have been 50 or older

Latest Updates

 
  • Pfizer seeks FDA approval beyond ‘emergency use authorization’ for COVID-19 vaccine. Pfizer and BioNTech are asking the Food and Drug Administration (FDA) for official approval of their COVID-19 vaccine, which so far has been administered to more than 134 million Americans under emergency use authorization (EUA). The companies announced on May 7 that they will apply for a Biologics License Application (BLA) for their two-dose mRNA vaccine for individuals 16 and older. They have requested a priority review from the FDA, which takes about six months, compared with the standard 10-month review process. Pfizer and BioNTech have also submitted an application to expand the current EUA for their COVID-19 vaccine to include individuals 12 to 15 years old. Americans will continue to receive the vaccine under the EUA until the FDA acts on approval.

  • COVID-19 death toll could be much higher than current estimates. A new analysis from the University of Washington's Institute for Health Metrics and Evaluation (IHME) shows that the U.S. death toll from COVID-19 could already be close to 905,000 — much higher than the estimated 580,000 deaths currently reported. Globally, IHME estimates COVID-19 has caused 6.9 million deaths, more than double what official numbers show. The authors of the report, which looks at excess mortality, note a few reasons for the discrepancy, including varied testing capacity and unrecorded deaths throughout the pandemic.

  • COVID-19 cases could plummet this summer. Fewer Americans are getting coronavirus infections and fewer are ending up in the hospital for COVID-19 treatment, compared to previous weeks, data from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) shows. Deaths from COVID-19 are also down — and these trends could continue, a recent CDC report shows. The modeling study, released May 5, finds that with increased vaccination efforts and adherence to other methods of prevention — masking, physical distancing, etc. — the country could see a sharp decline in COVID-19 cases by July. “The results remind us that we have the path out of this,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. The models, however, also serve as a reminder: “They project that local conditions and emerging variants are putting many states at risk for increases in COVID-19 cases, especially if we do not increase the rate of vaccinations and if we do not keep our current mitigation strategies in place until we have a critical mass of people vaccinated,” Walensky added. 

  • Study shows Pfizer vaccine offers strong protection against two concerning variants. A new study conducted in Qatar and published in The New England Journal of Medicine details the effectiveness of the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine against the U.K. (B.1.1.7) and South African (B.1.351) variants. Researchers found the two-dose shot was nearly 90 percent effective at preventing an infection caused by the B.1.1.7 variant and about 75 percent effective at preventing an infection caused by the B.1.351 at 14 or more days after the second dose. The vaccine was also highly effective (nearly 100 percent) at preventing severe illness and death from an infection caused by either variant. B.1.1.7 is currently the predominant variant circulating in the U.S. 

  • Getting a vaccine is getting easier. The federal government has created new ways the public can access a COVID-19 vaccine and President Joe Biden has set a new vaccination goal: that 70 percent of adult Americans get a shot by July 4. To find a place to get a shot, consumers can go to vaccines.gov, enter their zip code, check which vaccines they are willing to take (Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna or Johnson & Johnson) and how far they are willing to travel to get a shot. People can also text their zip code to 438829 and get a text back that says the nearest place they can go that has vaccines in stock. Biden is also directing all the stores participating in the federal pharmacy program to provide walk-in hours so people can get a shot without making an appointment in advance. Biden also said the federal government will make a special push beginning next week to get more vaccine to rural health clinics and other locations in an effort to increase the number of people getting vaccinated in rural areas.

  • Real-world data confirms COVID vaccines provide strong protection in older adults. A new report from the CDC finds adults 65 and older who are fully vaccinated with either the Moderna or the Pfizer-BioNTech vaccine were 94 percent less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people of the same age who were not vaccinated. People 65 and older who were partially vaccinated (have had one dose in a two-dose series for at least two weeks) were 64 percent less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people who were not vaccinated. “These findings are encouraging and welcome news for the two-thirds of people aged 65 and up who are already fully vaccinated,” Walensky said in a statement. “COVID-19 vaccines are highly effective and these real-world findings confirm the benefits seen in clinical trials, preventing hospitalizations among those most vulnerable.”

  • CDC revises mask guidance for vaccinated individuals. Americans who are fully vaccinated no longer need to wear a mask outdoors, including at small outdoor gatherings and when dining at an outdoor restaurant with friends, the CDC announced on April 27. However, masks are still encouraged at crowded outdoor events, such as concerts, parades and sporting events. Vaccinated individuals should also continue wearing masks for indoor activities, such as going to the movies, attending church or dining inside a restaurant or bar. The CDC maintains that it’s “important to consider your own personal situation and the risk to you, your family, and your community before venturing out.” 

  • CDC, FDA lift Johnson & Johnson vaccine pause.  After a nearly two-week pause, Americans 18 and older can once again get the one-shot Johnson & Johnson (J&J) COVID-19 vaccine, health officials announced on April 23. The U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA) and the CDC issued a joint statement after CDC’s Committee on Immunization Practices (ACIP) recommended by a 10-4 vote that the pause be lifted. During a nearly six-hour meeting, the advisory panel weighed the benefits of the one-dose J&J vaccine and the cases of serious blood clots, almost all of which occurred in women ages 18 to 48. The latest data shows that 15 cases of blood clots occurred among nearly 8 million adults who received J&J vaccinations and that the risk of blood clots was far outweighed by the hospitalizations prevented and lives saved.

  • People with mild COVID-19 can have lingering symptoms. A new CDC report found that among 3,171 adult COVID-19 patients who were not hospitalized for the disease, 69 percent went back to the doctor 28 to 180 days after their COVID-19 diagnosis. Two-thirds had a visit for a new primary diagnosis and approximately one-third had a new specialist visit. New diagnoses included cough, shortness of breath, chest or throat pain, and fatigue, “which likely represent ongoing COVID-19 symptoms and are consistent with other reports of patient-reported symptoms months after SARS-CoV-2 infection,” the report states.

  • Rare ‘breakthrough cases’ are reported. More than 5,800 people out of 75 million who were fully vaccinated against COVID-19 between Dec. 14 and April 13 tested positive for a coronavirus infection (called a breakthrough case), the CDC reports. “COVID-19 vaccines are effective and are a critical tool to bring the pandemic under control. However no vaccines are 100 percent effective at preventing illness,” the agency writes. Vaccine breakthrough infections were reported among people of all ages; nearly half (45 percent) of the reported cases were in adults 60 and older. Twenty-nine percent of the breakthrough infections were reported as asymptomatic; 7 percent of people who got COVID-19 were hospitalized and 1 percent died. “Vaccine breakthrough cases occur in only a small percentage of vaccinated persons. To date, no unexpected patterns have been identified in the case demographics or vaccine characteristics among people with reported vaccine breakthrough infections,” the CDC says. 

  • Leaving middle seats open on airplanes can reduce COVID exposure. A new CDC report based on a laboratory model found that when middle seats were left open on airplanes, risk of exposure to coronavirus particles was reduced by 23 to 57 percent, compared with full aircraft occupancy. However, it’s not yet understood whether the extra space could decrease virus transmission and infection. “Based on a data-driven model, approaches to physical distancing, including keeping middle seats vacant, could reduce exposure to SARS-CoV-2 on aircraft,” the authors write. Current CDC guidelines recommend delaying travel unless you are fully vaccinated.

  • Two new CDC reports highlight racial and ethnic disparities during the pandemic. In each region of the country, the proportion of hospitalized COVID-19 patients was highest among Hispanics and Latinos, a new report from the CDC. shows. A second study released by the CDC found that Hispanic and American Indian and Alaskan Native individuals were 1.7 times more likely to seek care in emergency departments for COVID-19 from October-December 2020, compared to whites; Black individuals were 1.4 times more likely. “The COVID-19 pandemic and its disproportional impact on communities of color is just the most recent and glaring example of health inequities that threaten the health of our nation,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said in a press briefing on April 12. She added, “We must acknowledge the disparities that exist and commit to an equitable distribution of vaccines, particularly to those communities that have been hardest hit by the virus.” 

  • CDC updates guidance on cleaning surfaces. Cleaning surfaces with soap or detergent is enough to prevent the spread of coronavirus in most situations, according to new guidance issued April 5 by the CDC. “Disinfection is only recommended in indoor settings, schools and homes where there has been a suspected or confirmed case of COVID-19, within the last 24 hours,” CDC Director Rochelle Walensky said. People can get infected via contaminated surfaces, Walensky said, but the risk is low. Fogging, fumigation and electrostatic spraying is also not recommended and actually carries safety risks, she said.

What You Should Know About the Coronavirus

Answers to the most frequently asked questions about COVID-19.


Are older adults at higher risk of illness? 

Older adults and people with chronic underlying health conditions are more likely than younger, healthier people to experience serious illness from COVID-19, the disease caused by the coronavirus. There is no specific age at which risk increases. Rather, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says “risk increases steadily as you age” with the greatest risk for severe illness being among those age 85 and older. Ninety-five percent of COVID-19 deaths in the U.S. have occurred among people who were 50 or older.

Part of the reason risk increases with age is that people are more likely to have other health issues later in life, and underlying health conditions are a huge driver of complications that arise from COVID-19. A June 202 report from the CDC found that hospitalizations for people with COVID-19 were six times as high for patients with chronic health conditions, compared to otherwise healthy individuals; deaths among this population were 12 times as high.

People with the following conditions are at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19, the CDC says:

  • Cancer
  • Chronic kidney disease
  • Chronic lung diseases, including COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease), asthma (moderate to severe), interstitial lung disease, cystic fibrosis and pulmonary hypertension
  • Dementia or other neurological conditions
  • Diabetes (type 1 or type 2)
  • Down syndrome
  • Heart conditions (such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, cardiomyopathies or hypertension)
  • HIV infection
  • Immunocompromised state (weakened immune system)
  • Liver disease
  • Overweight and obesity (defined as a body mass index of 25 or greater)
  • Pregnancy
  • Sickle cell disease or thalassemia
  • Smoking, current or former
  • Solid organ or blood stem cell transplant (includes bone marrow transplants)
  • Stroke or cerebrovascular disease, which affects blood flow to the brain
  • Substance use disorders (such as alcohol, opioid or cocaine use disorder)

What can older adults do to reduce their risk? 

Get vaccinated

The FDA has issued emergency use authorization (EUA) for three COVID-19 vaccines developed by Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson (J&J). All three vaccines are safe and highly effective at preventing severe disease, studies show.

After you’ve been vaccinated, the CDC still recommends taking precautions such as wearing a face mask, avoiding crowds, staying at least 6 feet from others and washing your hands frequently. 

Avoid crowds and close contact with others

If you haven’t been vaccinated, the best way to dodge a coronavirus infection is to avoid being exposed to the virus. Limit interactions with people outside your household as much as possible, keep a distance of at least 6 feet from others and wash your hands often with soap and water (or use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer if soap and water are not an option).

Wear a mask

The CDC recommends wearing face masks in indoor settings (other than your own home, as long as no one is sick with the virus) and outdoors when a minimum physical distance of 6 feet from others cannot be maintained. Face masks help protect the wearer from coronavirus infection, in addition to helping protect others from being infected by the wearer.

Wearing a surgical mask under a cloth mask significantly improves protection from the coronavirus by creating a tighter fit around the face, a CDC study published Feb. 10 found. The study showed that when a cloth mask was worn over a surgical mask, 92.5 percent of cough particles were blocked, compared to only about 42 percent from a cloth or surgical mask alone. 

The CDC study also revealed that the performance of surgical masks can be improved by knotting ear loop strings where they meet the mask and folding in and flattening mask edges. The researchers said their results demonstrate the importance of ensuring a mask fits well, with no gaps around the edges.


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What about travel? 

Before you make travel plans be sure to double-check any rules pertaining to your destination and mode of transportation. Many countries and states have travel restrictions or guidelines in place that could affect your trip — the same goes for airlines. AARP has a list of coronavirus restrictions and quarantine rules for travelers in every state.

The CDC says both vaccinated and unvaccinated travelers should still follow these recommendations for traveling safely:

  • Wear a mask over your nose and mouth. Masks are required on planes, buses, trains, and other forms of public transportation and in U.S. transportation hubs such as airports and stations.
  • Stay 6 feet from others and avoid crowds
  • Wash your hands often or use hand sanitizer

Travel guidance for fully vaccinated people. The CDC says fully vaccinated people can travel “at low risk to themselves” but should still wear masks, avoid crowds, socially distance and wash their hands frequently. They can leave the country without getting a COVID-19 test unless it’s required by their destination, and they do not need to self-quarantine after returning to the U.S. unless it’s required by a local jurisdiction.

However, vaccinated people are still required to have a negative COVID-19 test result before they board an international flight to return to the U.S., the CDC says, and they should take a COVID-19 test 3 to 5 days after returning. People are fully vaccinated two weeks after they receive their second dose of the two-dose COVID-19 vaccines or the single-dose Johnson & Johnson vaccine. 

Travel guidance for unvaccinated people. The CDC recommends delaying travel until you are fully vaccinated because travel increases your chance of getting and spreading COVID-19.

Testing can help you travel more safely, the CDC says. The CDC recommends getting tested with a viral test one to three days before your trip. Keep a copy of your test results with you during travel; you may be asked for them.

If you travel internationally, before you board a flight to return to the U.S., you are required to have a negative COVID-19 viral test result no more than 3 days before travel or documentation of recovery from COVID-19 in the past 3 months.

After you travel, get tested with a viral test three to five days after your trip and stay home and self-quarantine for a full seven days after travel, the CDC says, even if your test is negative. If you don’t get tested, stay home and self-quarantine for 10 days after travel.AARP has information about specific travel advisories, airline change fees and more on how to stay safe when you travel.

How is the coronavirus spreading?

The virus is thought to spread mainly between people in close contact with one another by respiratory droplets produced when an infected person coughs, sneezes or talks, according to the CDC. Those droplets can land in the mouths or noses of nearby people or be inhaled into the lungs. Aerosol transmission (tiny exhaled particles that can linger in indoor air for longer durations and travel farther than 6 feet) can also play a role in the spread of the virus, which reinforces the importance of mask wearing, experts say.

According to the CDC, the virus may be spread in other ways, including by touching a contaminated surface or object and then touching your mouth, nose or eyes. However, this is not thought to be the main way the virus spreads. Cleaning surfaces with soap or detergent is enough to prevent the spread of coronavirus in most situations; disinfection is “likely not needed unless someone in your home is sick or if someone who is positive for COVID-19 has been in your home within the last 24 hours,” the CDC says.

Finally, it’s important to note that COVID-19 can be spread by people before they start showing symptoms of COIVID-19 (presymptomatic) or even if they never develop symptoms (asymptomatic). A study published Jan. 7 in JAMA Network Open found that people without symptoms account for about 59 percent of all COVID-19 transmission, The study underscores why it’s important to wear a mask, practice social distancing, avoid crowds and take other precautions, whether you have symptoms or not.

What are the symptoms?

People with COVID-19 have reported a wide range of symptoms that typically appear two to 14 days after exposure to the virus. Here is the latest list of symptoms, according to the CDC:

  • Fever or chills
  • Cough
  • Shortness of breath or difficulty breathing
  • Fatigue
  • Muscle or body aches
  • Headache
  • New loss of taste or smell
  • Sore throat
  • Congestion or runny nose
  • Nausea or vomiting
  • Diarrhea

The CDC acknowledges this list is not exhaustive; skin rashes or lesions may also be a sign of the virus.

Health experts are asking anyone who experiences symptoms to call their health care provider or local health department for advice before seeking care to avoid spreading germs to others. Those who are feeling sick and are unsure of their symptoms can also check the CDC’s interactive guide for advice on appropriate medical care.  

However, if you develop emergency warning signs — pain or pressure in the chest; new disorientation or confusion; pale, gray, or blue-colored skin, lips, or nail beds; difficulty breathing; or an inability to wake or stay awake — get medical attention immediately, health officials warn. 

The CDC also has tips for what to do if you are diagnosed with COVID-19.

How is COVID-19 treated?

Researchers are continuing to study potential treatments for COVID-19, and several promising developments have taken place. Here are some of the treatment options:

Remdesivir: Remdesivir is the first — and so far, only — treatment for COVID-19 to receive approval from the U.S. Food and Drug Administration (FDA). Research shows it can help hospitalized COVID-19 patients recover faster.

Dexamethasone and other corticosteroids: The World Health Organization (WHO) on Sept. 2 issued new guidelines that strongly recommend the use of dexamethasone (along with other inexpensive and common corticosteroids such as hydrocortisone) for the treatment of patients “with severe and critical COVID-19.” Clinical trials found that corticosteroids cut the risk of death in patients hospitalized with the disease.

Bamlanivimab and etesevimab: This therapy, from drug manufacturer Eli Lilly, combines two monoclonal antibody drugs. The combination received an emergency use authorization (EUA) from the FDA on Feb. 9 to treat mild to moderate cases of COVID-19 in patients at high risk of severe disease, including people 65 and older and those with chronic medical conditions. Bamlanivimab is no longer authorized as a treatment when used on its own. The drugs are not approved to treat hospitalized patients or those who require oxygen.

Casirivimab and imdevimab: Another antibody treatment, Regeneron's COVID-19 monoclonal antibody cocktail received an EUA on Nov. 21 for the treatment of mild to moderate COVID-19 in non-hospitalized patients who are at high risk of progressing to more severe illness, including people 65 and older and those with chronic medical conditions.

Convalescent plasma: Blood plasma donated by individuals who have recovered from coronavirus infection contains antibodies that may speed recovery when administered to patients hospitalized with COVID-19. The FDA granted an EUA for convalescent plasma on Aug. 23. A study published Jan. 6 in the New England Journal of Medicine found that giving plasma infusions to patients 65 and older experiencing mild COVID-19 symptoms within a few days of symptom onset significantly reduced the need for oxygen support.

What should I know about the vaccines?

The FDA has issued emergency use authorizations (EUAs) for three vaccines: from Pfizer-BioNTech, Moderna and Johnson & Johnson.

All three vaccines are safe and effective at preventing severe disease, studies show, and adverse reactions have been extremely rare.

The Moderna and Pfizer-BioNTech vaccines call for two doses, spaced 21 days (Pfizer) or 28 days (Moderna) apart. However, if that is not feasible, the CDC has said the doses may be spaced up to six weeks apart.

The Johnson & Johnson vaccine requires only one shot. On April 23, health officials added a warning to this vaccine’s fact sheet following reports of a rare but serious type of blood clot experienced by a small number of people who had received the J&J vaccine. The FDA and CDC reviewed 15 reported cases of the blood clotting disorder, all in women ages 18 to 59 who had received the J&J vaccine and determined the vaccine’s benefits outweigh any known risks.

The new warning advises individuals to seek medical attention right away if they experience any of these symptoms after receiving the J&J vaccine: chest pain; leg swelling; persistent abdominal pain; severe or persistent headaches or blurred vision; or easy bruising or tiny blood spots under the skin beyond the site of the injection. Among the known cases, these symptoms occurred six to 15 days after vaccination, setting them apart from the expected vaccine side effects. It also warns health care providers that heparin — a drug commonly used to break up clots — may be harmful in patients with this rare type of clot.

It’s common to experience temporary side effects after getting the vaccine, such as soreness in the arm, headache, fatigue, muscle and joint pain, nausea, fever or chills. They are a sign that the vaccine is working.

You are considered fully vaccinated two weeks after getting the Johnson & Johnson vaccine or after your second dose of the two-dose vaccines.

High-risk populations — health care workers, residents in long-term care facilities, adults 65 and older and people with medical conditions that put them at increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 — were among the first groups eligible for vaccination. All American adults will be eligible for a vaccine beginning April 19.

Two other vaccines are in phase 3 clinical trials in the U.S. A phase 3 clinical trial is when researchers study the safety and effectiveness of the vaccine candidates against a placebo in a large population.

AARP has more information about when older Americans can expect to get the vaccine, what to expect when you get the vaccine and state-by-state guides to vaccine distribution.

the covid vaccine in your state

The latest on how to get the vaccine.


How can I take care of a sick friend?

Health officials stress that it’s important to take care of sick friends and neighbors in the community — and there’s a way to do so safely. If you are taking food to a neighbor, consider leaving it at the door.

If you are caring for someone who has COVID-19, keep a safe distance. Wash your hands often, wipe down high-touch surfaces and remind the person who is sick to wear a face mask. You should wear a face mask, too. Offer to help with groceries and errands, if possible. 

Finally: Watch for warning signs of serious illness. Call the doctor if the person’s condition worsens, and seek immediate medical attention if they have difficulty breathing, pain or pressure in the chest, new confusion, an inability to wake or stay awake, or blueish lips or face.

What should I know about coronavirus variants?

Public health officials have identified new strains of the coronavirus that are more contagious, worrying experts who say they could lead to a surge in COVID-19 cases as vaccinations are getting underway.

The first strain, known as B.1.1.7., was discovered in the United Kingdom but is now circulating in more than 45 countries, including the United States. Studies indicate it may carry an increased risk of death.

Early data indicate the current COVID-19 vaccines are likely to be effective against the British variant.

Other variants of concern include one first discovered in South Africa (B.1.351) and another (P.1) first found in Brazil. The CDC is also tracking two variants that are spreading in California and New York City.

Early studies indicate that the current COVID-19 vaccines may be less effective against some of those strains, although the vaccines would still provide some protection.

The COVID-19 vaccine makers have already announced that they are working to modify their vaccines – and possibly to create booster shots – to better protect against variants.

Do some people have lingering symptoms?

Many COVID-19 survivors battle lingering symptoms for weeks or months after infection. Sometimes called “long-haulers,” they suffer from dizziness, insomnia, confusion, a racing heart or a host of other lasting effects that keep them from getting back to their normal lives.

A study published Jan. 8 in the journal The Lancet found that more than 75 percent of patients hospitalized with COVID-19 still suffered from at least one symptom six months later. The study revealed that fatigue, muscle weakness and sleep difficulties were the most common post-COVID symptoms, but patients also reported anxiety, depression, loss of taste or smell, heart palpitations and hair loss.

Experts encourage COVID-19 patients experiencing continuing symptoms to seek care from a medical provider. Many U.S. hospitals have set up special clinics for survivors and have already learned a lot about the best ways to help.

What should I know about testing?

The CDC says you should consider getting a COVID-19 test if:

  • You have symptoms of COVID-19.
  • You have had close contact (within 6 feet for a total of 15 minutes or more) with someone with confirmed COVID-19. (Fully vaccinated people with no COVID-19 symptoms and people who have tested positive for COVID-19 within the past 3 months do not need to be tested following an exposure.)
  • You have taken part in activities that put you at higher risk for COVID-19, such as travel, attending large social or mass gatherings, or being in crowded or poorly ventilated indoor settings.
  • You have been asked to get tested by a healthcare provider or state or local health department.

The most accurate COVID-19 tests use a method called polymerase chain reaction, or PCR. PCR tests require your sample to be sent to a lab, so it can take a few days to get results. 

The FDA has also given emergency use authorization to rapid tests that use what’s called antigen technology. Antigen tests are faster because samples don’t have to be sent out to a lab, but studies show they are less accurate, especially if you are asymptomatic. 

The FDA has also given the green light to five at-home COVID-19 tests that deliver results in real time at home, including four that will be sold over the counter without a doctor's prescription. Some are already available.

This story will be updated periodically with new developments. Check back regularly.

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