COVID-19 (coronavirus) Featured

How can I protect seniors and at-risk people from COVID-19?

The hands of an elderly person.

It’s true that for many people, COVID-19 presents itself as mild illness or cold — a cough, a fever and breathlessness.

But for people over age 60 or people with other health conditions like diabetes or cancer, COVID-19 can have serious complications.

According to Statistics Canada, more than 6.5 million people in Canada are over age 65, and millions of Canadians live with conditions that make them more vulnerable to illness.

For these members of our communities, catching COVID-19 might mean very serious illness, hospitalization and even death.

If you get sick, even though it might not be serious, who might you pass the infection to?

Dr. Susan Deering, attending physician at Sunnybrook’s Veterans Centre, says it’s important we all work to reduce the spread of the virus so that we can protect these people — our parents, grandparents, neighbours and friends.

She says that by practicing these habits, we can protect others from COVID-19 much in the same way we protect ourselves:

Stay home when you are sick

Even if you have mild symptoms or a cold or flu, it’s best to tuck in and stay home. This not only helps you rest and recover, it helps reduce the risk of spreading the virus through coughing, sneezing or touching shared surfaces with contaminated hands.

If you are supposed to visit Grandma but you aren’t feeling well, the best thing you can do for Grandma is stay home. Rebook your visit. Call or FaceTime instead.

If you have a cough or other symptoms and must provide care for your older or vulnerable loved one, please wear a mask to reduce the risk of your droplets spreading infection. Replace the mask if it becomes damp and be careful when removing it. Do not reuse single-use masks. Place the mask in the garbage and clean your hands promptly.

Practice “respiratory hygiene”

Cover your cough. Do the sleeve sneeze. Cough or sneeze into a tissue (then throw that tissue out and wash your hands.)

Clean your hands

Our hands often carry viruses and bacteria to a virus’s port of entry – your eyes, nose or mouth. Wash every surface of your hands with soap for at least 20 seconds. Keep your hands away from your face.

Practice social distancing

The Government of Canada has asked Canadians to practice “social distancing“.  By social distancing, we can reduce the spread of COVID-19 in our community. This means avoiding crowds and big gatherings, reducing your number of close contacts, and keeping a physical distance of 2 metres from others when possible.

What’s in it for me?

Protecting others from viruses can save their life. If that’s not enough to motivate you, remember: reducing the spread of illnesses like COVID-19 means fewer people will need hospitalization for it, which in turn means our hospitals can still be available to you if you need your appendix removed or have a traumatic fall.

Wash your hands and stay home when you are sick: it’s a win-win (win) for you and for others (and for the healthcare system).


This post was updated March 16 to reflect the Government of Canada‘s call for communities to practice social distancing.

About the author


Alexis Dobranowski

Alexis Dobranowski is a Communications Advisor at Sunnybrook.