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Elderly family isolating for protection


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MARYLAND – Grace Dowell, a 63-year-old grandmother, has stopped grocery shopping and cancelled all her doctor’s appointments. No one is allowed into her rural Maryland home. Every piece of mail is disinfected.

Dowell decided last week that strict isolation was the only way to protect herself, her husband and her mother from COVID-19, the virus that has killed more than 10 000 people across the globe and is proving especially deadly for the elderly.

Dowell, a retired labour union worker, has rheumatoid arthritis and a compromised immune system. Her husband Donald, 74, suffers from emphysema. Her mother, Margaret Hildebrandt, 93, also has a lung disease and needs oxygen. Dowell took over her mother’s care from a visiting nurse because she worried an outsider could contaminate the home.

“If my mom gets this, she’d be gone in a day,” said Dowell, who wears a baby-monitor and answers her mother’s calls for help through the night. “My mom beat cancer nine times. I don’t want her to die from this.”

The elderly are especially vulnerable in the global pandemic and health officials and governments are increasingly calling for extreme measures to safeguard them. Across the globe, many cities have all but shut down as officials issue dire warnings for younger people – who can carry the virus without knowing it – to avoid their parents and grandparents. But this growing isolation of the elderly has spawned its own crisis, as families try to balance the need to care for loved ones with directives to stay away, shifting the burden to overstretched governments and medical facilities.

Studies suggest the severity of coronavirus rises with age. In Italy, which now has the world’s highest death count, the average age of those dying is 80, according to a study by the Italian national institute of health. In China, where the pandemic started, people 70 and older accounted for just 12 per cent of all infections but more than half of all deaths, according to the Chinese Center for Disease Control and Prevention. In the United States, people 65 and older have thus far accounted for 31 percent of cases, 53 per cent of intensive care hospitalizations and 80 percent of deaths, according to United Sttaes government data.