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CDC expands list of groups at higher risk of severe COVID-19 illness

The CDC's announcement increases the number of Americans who are considered higher risk of severe illness from coronavirus.

WASHINGTON — The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention has updated and expanded its list of individuals who are considered at an increased risk of getting severely ill from COVID-19. 

The CDC detailed the changes during a teleconference call Thursday with reporters. It explained that it's clear a substantial number of Americans are at increased risk of severe illness from the coronavirus pandemic – highlighting the importance of continuing to follow preventive measures.

“Understanding who is most at risk for severe illness helps people make the best decisions for themselves, their families, and their communities,” said CDC Director Robert Redfield MD. “While we are all at risk for COVID-19, we need to be aware of who is susceptible to severe complications so that we take appropriate measures to protect their health and well-being.”

The CDC said in a press release it's removed the specific age threshold for its "older adult" classification and is now warning that "among adults, risk increases steadily as you age, and it’s not just those over the age of 65 who are at increased risk for severe illness." 

Additionally, the CDC has updated the list of underlying medical conditions that increase a person's risk of severe illness.

Experts determined there was consistent evidence these conditions increase a person's risk, regardless of 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

Health officials noted that these changes increase the number of people who fall into groups considered higher risk. An estimated 40% of American adults are considered obese, according to the CDC.  

For most people, the new coronavirus causes mild or moderate symptoms, such as fever and cough that clear up in two to three weeks. For some, especially older adults and people with existing health problems -- including children -- it can cause more severe illness and death. 

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The CDC has also clarified the list of other medical conditions that could very well increase a person's risk of a severe illness. It has now added asthma, high blood pressure, neurologic conditions such as dementia, cerebrovascular disease such as stroke, and pregnancy. 

A report from the CDC published Thursday found that pregnant women with COVID-19 were significantly more likely to be hospitalized, admitted to the intensive care unit, and receive mechanical ventilation than nonpregnant women. However, pregnant women were not at greater risk for death. 

The CDC stressed that it's important to know whether you're at increased risk for severe illness in order to make informed decision about which activities to resume doing. 

"Everyone should continue to do their part to implement prevention strategies, such as focusing on activities where social distancing can be maintained, washing your hands frequently, limiting contact with and disinfecting commonly touched surfaces or shared items, and wearing a cloth face covering when you are around people you do not live with, especially when it is difficult to stay 6 feet apart or when people are indoors," the CDC said. 

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