COVID-19 precautions (Getty Images via CBS News)

CDC expands list of people at high risk of severe illness from COVID-19

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Thursday expanded its list of risk factors that make people more likely to develop severe illness or die from COVID-19. The update comes as the number of confirmed coronavirus infections rises to record levels in the United States, driven by alarming spikes in FloridaTexas and other states across the South and West.

The agency also said that pregnant women might be at higher risk, though more research is needed on that and a number of other underlying health conditions that may affect risk.

The chance of severe illness from COVID-19 increases with age, with older adults at highest risk, but the CDC noted that the risk doesn’t begin suddenly at age 65. Instead, “people in their 50s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s. Similarly, people in their 60s or 70s are, in general, at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 50s. The greatest risk for severe illness from COVID-19 is among those aged 85 or older.”

The CDC says studies have shown that these conditions increase a person’s risk of severe COVID-19 illness, regardless of their age:

  • 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

An estimated 60% of U.S. adults have at least one chronic medical condition, according to the CDC, meaning the agency’s expanded list of risk factors drastically increases the number of people classified as high risk.

Obesity alone affects about 40% of American adults, and is one of the most common underlying conditions that increases one’s risk for severe illnesses. The agency warns: “The more underlying medical conditions people have, the higher their risk.”

“As more information becomes available, it is clear that a substantial number of Americans are at increased risk of severe illness — highlighting the importance of continuing to follow preventive measures,” reads the CDC’s statement.

On Friday, the number of confirmed new coronavirus cases per day in the U.S. hit an all-time high of 40,000 — eclipsing the mark set during one of the deadliest stretches in late April. While the increase is believed to reflect, in part, greatly expanded testing, experts say there is ample evidence the virus is mounting a deadly comeback, with rising numbers of hospitalizations and deaths in numerous states.

In the face of climbing case counts, Texas and Florida have paused or rolled back some of their broad reopening measures.

“Every activity that involves contact with others has some degree of risk right now,” warns the CDC. “Knowing if you are at increased risk for severe illness and understanding the risks associated with different activities of daily living can help you make informed decisions about which activities to resume and what level of risk you will accept. This information is especially critical as communities begin to reopen.”

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