Cases of the new coronavirus that was first detected in China continue to increase in many parts of the world, including the United States. Commonly referred to in the press as simply coronavirus, which is a family of viruses that include SARS, MERS, and the common cold, the disease caused by the coronavirus has been named “coronavirus disease 2019” (abbreviated “COVID-19”). To effectively respond to COVID-19, it is important to focus on vulnerable populations.
While the full ramifications of COVID-19 are still unknown, we know that traditional public health measures are effective. One of the best ways to prevent infection is to wash your hands to get rid of any pathogens you may have picked up. Other preventive behaviors include covering coughs and sneezes, avoiding touching your face, cleaning touched surfaces frequently, and staying home from work or school and consulting your doctor if you feel sick.
Beyond these individual behaviors, interventions such social distancing can help slow the spread of COVID-19. Social distancing is a way to keep people from interacting closely or frequently enough to spread an infectious disease. This can include closing schools, canceling large gatherings, and creating plans for remote education and working.
The unique needs of people living with HIV, those with disabilities, and other vulnerable populations with respect to COVID-19 must also be addressed. A recent presentation at the Conference on Retroviruses and Opportunistic Infections outlined recommendations for people living with HIV as the COVID-19 outbreak continues. The recommendations include ensuring an ample supply of medications (for example, a 30-day supply at all times), keeping vaccinations up to date, establishing a plan for clinical care if isolated or quarantined (for example, through telemedicine or physician online portals), and maintaining a social network including remote interaction if necessary. There are also unanswered questions for people living with HIV about whether HIV antiretroviral medication is protective against COVID-19 as well as concerns about safeguarding the supply chain of HIV antiretroviral medications in the context of COVID-19.
Yet another vulnerable population for COVID-19 are people in jails and prisons. As pointed out in an article published in Health Affairs, we need immediate baseline assessment of the degree of preparedness in prisons and jails in the event of an uncontrolled outbreak, guidelines tailored to prison health providers on prevention, diagnosis, and treatment of COVID-19, timely response to reported and observed symptoms, comprehensive criminal justice reform, improved continuity of health care during the transition of those released back to the community, and measures to protect the health of corrections staff.
By taking certain steps, governments can be effective at reducing the spread of COVID-19. To be successful, governments must meet the needs of vulnerable populations.
The views reflected in this expert column are those of the individual authors and do not necessarily represent those of the O’Neill Institute for National and Global Health Law or Georgetown University. This blog is solely informational in nature, and not intended as a substitute for competent legal advice from a licensed and retained attorney in your state or country.