Coronavirus disease (COVID-19): Vulnerable populations and COVID-19
Handling a wide range of conversations involving coronavirus (COVID-19) and overall health concerns in your communities can be difficult, especially when trying to parse fact from fiction. If you’re looking for reliable content to share with your colleagues, friends, and family on the prevention of coronavirus, or dealing with anxiety surrounding the virus, we’ve compiled some helpful information from leading health authorities.
- Wash your hands often with soap and water for at least 20 seconds. (CDC) If soap and water are not readily available, use an alcohol-based hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol.
- Avoid touching your eyes, nose and mouth. (CDC)
- Avoid close contact with people who are sick. (CDC)
- If you cough or sneeze, do it into your sleeve, or use a tissue. Dispose of the tissue immediately into a closed rubbish bin, and then clean your hands. (WHO)
- Clean surfaces regularly with disinfectant. For example: always clean kitchen benches and work desks. (WHO)
If you feel unwell
- Avoid traveling if you have a fever and/or cough. (WHO) Once you get home, make contact with a health professional and tell them about where you have been.
- If you feel unwell, stay at home and call your healthcare provider. (WHO)
Wear a mask if:
- You are a health worker treating COVID-19 patients.
- If you are healthy, but taking care of a person with suspected coronavirus infection.
- If you are coughing or sneezing. (WHO)
Masks are effective only when used in combination with frequent hand-cleaning with an alcohol-based hand rub or soap and water. If you wear a mask, then you must know how to use it and dispose of it properly, as shared here on the WHO website.
Managing rising anxiety or stigma
We know that your communities may be feeling anxious, stressed or frightened with all of the news surrounding COVID-19.
Here are some important things to take into account and share with your community:
- It’s normal to feel sad, stressed, confused, scared or angry during a crisis. Talking to people you trust can help, like friends, family (WHO) or your fellow community members.
- If you must stay at home, maintain a healthy lifestyle, including proper diet, sleep, exercise. Keep up with loved ones at home by email and phone (WHO) and connect with your larger community for support.
- Don’t use smoking, alcohol or other drugs to deal with your emotions. (WHO)
- If you feel overwhelmed, talk to a health worker or counselor. Have a plan on where to go to and how to seek help for physical and mental health needs if required.
- Get the facts. Gather information that will help you accurately determine your risk so that you can take reasonable precautions. (WHO) Find a credible source you can trust such as the WHO website, or a federal or local public health agency.
- Limit your time on social media.
When posting on social media, be sure to share the latest facts from credible sources, avoid hyperbole and show solidarity with affected people by opening your community up to the stories of people who have been affected by the virus. Of course, keep in mind to not share information about someone else’s health concerns (such as someone affected by COVID-19 without their permission).
While diseases can make anyone sick, some Canadians are more at risk of getting an infection and developing severe complications due to their health, social and economic circumstances.
Organizations, staff and volunteers play an important role in helping to prevent these populations from getting or spreading the COVID-19 virus. Start by sharing simple things they can do to help keep themselves and others healthy, guide them to help if they develop any signs and symptoms and learn ways help care for sick clients recovering from COVID-19.
Vulnerable populations may include
Anyone who is:
- an older adult
- at risk due to underlying medical conditions (e.g. heart disease, hypertension, diabetes, chronic respiratory diseases, cancer)
- at risk due to a compromised immune system from a medical condition or treatment (e.g. chemotherapy)
Anyone who has:
- difficulty reading, speaking, understanding or communicating
- difficulty accessing medical care or health advice
- difficulty doing preventive activities, like frequent hand washing and covering coughs and sneezes
- ongoing specialized medical care or needs specific medical supplies
- ongoing supervision needs or support for maintaining independence
- difficulty accessing transportation
- economic barriers
- unstable employment or inflexible working conditions
- social or geographic isolation, like in remote and isolated communities
- insecure, inadequate, or nonexistent housing conditions
How organizations & businesses can support vulnerable populations during COVID-19 outbreaks
Take the time to learn the facts:
- Know more about COVID-19 by visiting Canada.ca/coronavirus .
- Keep up-to-date about the current situation in your community.
- Contact local, provincial, territorial public health officials to get relevant COVID-19 information, resources and guidance.
Take time to get prepared:
- Review your business continuity plan so you and your staff know what to do.
- Plan ahead for potential disruptions.
- Identify and plan how to continue providing the most critical services.
- Partner with organizations that provide similar services to share resources and strategies.
- Be prepared to answer questions from staff, volunteers, and clients.
- Consider your stock of general and cleaning supplies.
- Prepare for shelters and communal space limitations.
Educate staff about ways to prevent the spread of COVID-19:
- Washing hands often with soap and hot water or use of alcohol based sanitizer.
- Increasing access to hand hygiene and cough etiquette supplies (e.g., alcohol-based hand rub, soap, paper towels, tissues, waste containers).
- Cleaning frequently used spaces, surfaces and objects (kitchens, common areas, dining areas, desks, shared sleeping spaces, doorknobs, and faucets).
- Staying home when sick.
- Avoiding the use of shared personal items.
- Sharing information about what to do if staff or a client shows symptoms of becoming sick.
- Sharing steps about how to care for and isolate people living in a crowded facility (including the use of separate washrooms, if available).
Suggestions for supporting vulnerable populations during COVID-19 outbreaks
Provide clear instructions about how to wash hands and cover coughs using:
- the most commonly used language in the community
- short messages that explain simple steps they can take
- large font and graphics
- accessible instructions (e.g., braille, pictoral)
- by posting signs in common areas near sinks, entrances, intake areas, restrooms, sleeping areas, recreation areas, waiting rooms
Consider supporting alternatives such as:
- using volunteer drivers and subsidized taxi fares instead of public transportation
- putting in place alternative outreach measures or a “buddy” system
- including policies to allow sick clients to rest in shelters during the day
- providing access to food, drinks and supplies, as possible
- reminding clients to fill or refill prescriptions, and necessary medical supplies
If you suspect a client is sick from COVID-19, please contact your local public health authority.
We can all do our part in preventing the spread of COVID-19.
For more information on coronavirus, contact the Government of Canada: