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By Mayo Clinic staff
Many parts of the U.S. are experiencing increases in COVID-19 cases. According to Pritish Tosh, M.D., a Mayo Clinic infectious diseases expert, there's evidence to suggest that trend is going to continue and possibly get worse.
"There's a lot to suggest that this increase that we're seeing now in COVID-19 activity is going to continue and perhaps even get even higher in certain parts of the country. As they say, it's sometimes darkest before the dawn," says Dr. Tosh. "At the same time, there's a promise of several new vaccines on the horizon. Of course, right now, we don't know what the efficacy or the safety profile is of this of any of these yet, but there is at least that promise on the horizon that we will get out of this. But before we get out of this, there's going be a lot of people who are at risk, and we need to keep them safe."
Some health conditions put people into a high-risk category for developing more severe COVID-19 illness. This includes hypertension, cardiovascular disease, diabetes, cancer, obesity and mood disorders, including depression and schizophrenia.
Patients with both cardiovascular disease and cancer may be at significantly increased risk of experiencing worse outcomes related to COVID-19 infection. Studies have shown that those patients had a significantly higher risk of contracting more serious illness, requiring ICU admission or ventilation and are at higher risk of dying from the disease.
"I think the first step is really the simplest but the hardest: wearing a mask, hand-washing, sanitizing, and then really staying out of gatherings," says Dr. Herrmann. "It's as simple as that. I think that's so crucial for heart disease patients and cancer patients. I think there's nothing more effective than that. For patients with heart disease, we like to emphasize a healthy diet and lifestyle, and taking care of all your risk factors and continuing to take all cardiovascular medications as you need them."
The importance of prevention is not just for those high-risk patients. Dr. Tosh says it's something everyone needs to focus on.
"What we're seeing through this is that it's often not the high-risk people who are doing the high-risk activities," adds Dr. Tosh. "It's the lower-risk people — young adults who are otherwise quite healthy — going out and going to bars, coming home with some sniffles and then visiting their grandparents. And then those people end up getting sick and dying. I think it's just something we all need to focus on."
Influenza is something Dr. Herrmann says heart disease patients also should take seriously.
"There's good literature that heart disease patients do better, even in terms of lower risk of dying, if they get the flu shot," says Dr. Herrmann.
Since many COVID-19 symptoms are identical to the common cold or flu, experts recommend everyone 6 months and older get vaccinated for the flu this season to help reduce the burden on the health care system.