Seniors are increasingly left to protect themselves as the rest of the country abandons precautions: “Americans do not agree about the duty to protect others.”
Photo: Eleanor Bravo of Corrales, N.M., lost her sister to Covid early in the pandemic, and two years passed before the family could gather for a memorial. “I had this inordinate fear that if I got Covid, I would die too,” she said.Credit…Adria Malcolm for The New York Times
Paula Span – NY Times – 11 February 2023
“In early December, Aldo Caretti developed a cough and, despite all his precautions, came up positive for Covid on a home test. It took his family a couple of days to persuade Mr. Caretti, never fond of doctors, to go to the emergency room. There, he was sent directly to the intensive care unit.
Mr. Caretti and his wife, Consiglia, both 85, lived quietly in a condo in Plano, Texas. “He liked to read and learn, in English and Italian,” said his son Vic Caretti, 49. “He absolutely adored his three grandchildren.”
Aldo Caretti had encountered some health setbacks last year, including a mild stroke and a serious bout of shingles, but “he recuperated from all that.”
Covid was different. Even on a ventilator, Mr. Caretti struggled to breathe. After 10 days, “he wasn’t getting better,” said Vic Caretti, who flew in from Salt Lake City. “His organs were starting to break down. They said, ‘He’s not going to make it.’”
At least, this late in the pandemic, families can be with their loved ones at the end of life. When the family agreed to remove Mr. Caretti from the ventilator and provide comfort care, “he was alert, very aware of what was happening,” his son said. “He was holding everyone’s hand.” He died a few hours later, on Dec. 14.
For older Americans, the pandemic still poses significant dangers. About three-quarters of Covid deaths have occurred in people over 65, with the greatest losses concentrated among those over 75.
In January, the number of Covid-related deaths fell after a holiday spike but nevertheless numbered about 2,100 among those ages 65 to 74, more than 3,500 among 75- to 84-year-olds and nearly 5,000 among those over 85. Those three groups accounted for about 90 percent of the nation’s Covid deaths last month.
Hospital admissions, which have also been dropping, remain more than five times as high for people over 70 than for those in their 50s. Hospitals can endanger older patients even when the conditions that brought them in are successfully treated; the harmful effects of drugs, inactivity, sleep deprivation, delirium and other stresses can take months to recover from — or can land them back in the hospital.
“There continue to be very high costs of Covid,” said Julia Raifman, a public health policy specialist at the Boston University School of Public Health and a co-author of a recent editorial in The New England Journal of Medicine.
The demographic divide reflects a debate that continues as the pandemic wears on: What responsibility do those at lower risk from the virus have to those at higher risk — not only older people, but those who are immunosuppressed or who have chronic conditions?”