Published on March 10, 2020

Several categories of people need to take extra measures to avoid contracting COVID-19: those with certain chronic health conditions, immunocompromised individuals, and the elderly. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has guidance for people at elevated risk for severe coronavirus symptoms.

How many people are high risk for COVID-19?

In 2018, there were 52 million people over age 65 in the United States, which is 16% of the population.

Early US coronavirus cases were discovered at a nursing home in Kirkland, Wash. The disease quickly spread in close quarters among residents, visitors, and staff. Of the 52 million older Americans, 1.4 million reside in nursing homes. That’s 2.7%, a relatively small portion of the elderly population.

The CDC has also said people with conditions such as heart disease, diabetes, and lung disease are particularly vulnerable to COVID-19. People with cardiovascular issues are the largest vulnerable population: one in three adults report having hypertension, also known as high blood pressure. In addition, 7% percent of the adult population reports being diagnosed with a cardiovascular condition such as coronary heart disease or myocardial infarction.

Eleven percent of US adults report being diagnosed with diabetes, 10% with asthma, and 6% with chronic obstructive pulmonary disease.

Chronic illnesses among adults in the US

What to do if you are high risk


For those with a higher risk of developing severe symptoms, CDC recommends taking the following precautions:

  • Practice social distancing and avoid large gatherings
  • Avoid cruise travel and non-essential air travel
  • Limit close contact with other people and wash hands frequently
  • During an outbreak, stay home to reduce risk of being exposed
Last updated
3/11/2020
Behavioral Risk Factors Surveillance System
Last updated
3/11/2020