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What it means to be 'at risk' for coronavirus

WBIR 10News viewers asked for more context and clarification on what it means to be "at risk" for COVID-19. It comes to down to age and existing health.

KNOXVILLE, Tenn. — In countless press conferences, briefings, and announcements about the spread of novel coronavirus (COVID-19), one of the operative words is "risk."

We received messages from viewers asking for additional context to know if they are "at risk" for COVID-19.

First, the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization generally are not speaking of risk in terms of the likelihood you will be infected by the coronavirus.  Anyone who comes in contact with the virus can become infected.

Risk usually refers to "high risk" populations that are more likely to become severely ill with a greater chance of death if they are infected by the virus.

Credit: WBIR
COVID-19 diagram from CDC.

There are two main factors that determine if your risk level:  your age and your current health.


There is no precise percentage breakdown of the risk of severe illness posed to every age in the United States.  But scientists have identified a tipping point where the likelihood of severe and potentially deadly illness increases after your 50s.

"Starting at 60, there is an increased risk of death and the risk increases with age.  The highest risk of illness and death is in people older than 80," said Nancy Messonnier with the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

The CDC website indicates there is no evidence children are more susceptible to the coronavirus.  In fact, most cases involving children in China were mild.

Credit: WBIR
There is no evidence children are more susceptible to coronavirus (COVID-19) than adults.

However, infected children who are healthy enough to remain active can create a dangerous situation by spreading the virus to grandparents and older relatives who are at higher risk of severe illness.


The second major factor to determine the risk of becoming extremely sick or dying from coronavirus is your existing health.  Do you already have health problems related to your lungs, kidneys, or heart? Do you have diabetes? If so, you have a higher risk of a severe or deadly case of coronavirus.

COVID-19 is a respiratory illness.  It can cause pneumonia. If you already have a lung disease, you are more likely to become very sick if you contract the coronavirus.

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