Coronavirus Update -- March 21, 2020

Today's update focuses on seniors, many of whom are particularly at risk to the COVID-19 coronavirus.  If you're not a senior, please take a moment to check on your friends and loved ones who are.  See how you can help.  The isolation that will come from this crisis can cause a great deal of anxiety.  Many of them may need help getting groceries or other needed items.  And, no matter your age, help keep yourself healthy by following all the health safety guidelines.

Below is some information particularly relevant to older North Carolinians: 

  • Most importantly, older adults should familiarize themselves with the CDC's senior-specific guidelines on the virus and on how they specifically can take steps to protect themselves. They include:
    • Stay home if possible.
    • Wash your hands often.
    • Avoid close contact (6 feet, which is about two arm's length) with people who are sick.
    • Clean and disinfect frequently touched services.
    • Avoid all cruise travel and non-essential air travel.
    • Call your healthcare professional if you have concerns about COVID-19 and your underlying condition or if you are sick.

  • It's also important to know that Medicare will cover a coronavirus test if your doctor or health care provider orders it.  Medicare has also expanded telehealth coverage that will enable more beneficiaries to receive more critical services through platforms like FaceTime or Skype from their doctors without having to travel to a health care facility in person, at no additional cost.  This is safer for seniors, enabling them to receive the care they need without putting themselves at risk of coming into contact with germs by going to a hospital or doctors’ office.  Stay up to date on how Medicare is coping with the outbreak at their dedicated coronavirus website here. 

  • Social Security beneficiaries will continue to receive their monthly benefit amounts.  The Social Security Administration has also set up a coronavirus webpage with answers to frequently asked questions that I encourage beneficiaries to visit.  I also encourage you to sign up to receive updates, either by e-mail or phone, so that when changes are made you will be alerted.

  • For our veterans:
    • All NC Department of Military and Veterans Affairs offices, veterans homes, and cemeteries, will operate at reduced capacity until further notice.  Service offices are taking appointments on an individual basis for immediate emergency needs only.  Walk-ins are prohibited.  All offices are operational, but veterans should call their local facility for assistance.  Service officers are prepared to help veterans via remote delivery services by phone and other electronic means.  For more information from the NCDMVA on its coronavirus response, click here.

    • The Veterans Benefits Administration (VBA) Regional Offices are closed to the public. Regional offices will remain open, but will no longer accept walk-ins for claims assistance, scheduled appointments, counseling and other in-person services.  Veterans with claims specific or other questions may request information via Inquiry Routing & Information System (IRIS) or telephone at 1-800-827-1000.

    • The VA has set up a dedicated page for its coronavirus response here. As I mentioned earlier this week, the Fayetteville VA Coastal Health Care System has taken some specific steps to protect patients: 
      • Non-urgent procedures have been postponed and strict visitor restrictions have been implemented in order to protect patients and staff. These restrictions are available here.  Additionally:
        • Veterans that are experiencing COVID-19 symptoms (fever, cough, shortness of breath) or have been in contact with someone who has tested positive for the virus, should contact the VA's Clinical Contact Center at 1-800-771-6106.
        • Veterans are also encouraged to get their prescriptions refilled by mail to limit their exposure. They can either
          • Use MyHealtheVet 
            Or call either the Call center: 1-800-771-6106
            or the Local pharmacy line: 910-488-2120, ext: 5702 
         
  • Already, scammers are looking to take advantage of the coronavirus outbreak and prey on seniors.  The Social Security Administration is warning of an ongoing scam that targets seniors by sending letters threatening the suspension of benefits because its offices are closedLearn more about the scam and how to protect yourself here. 

  • The Federal Trade Commission has set up a site dedicated to COVID-19 scams, available here. It includes some important tips to avoiding scams: 
    • Hang up on robocalls.  Don’t press any numbers.  Scammers are using illegal robocalls to pitch everything from scam coronavirus treatments to work-at-home schemes.  The recording might say that pressing a number will let you speak to a live operator or remove you from their call list and could lead to more robocalls, instead.
    • Don’t click on links from sources you don’t know.  This could download viruses onto your computer or device.
    • Ignore online offers for vaccinations. There currently are no vaccines, pills, potions, lotions, lozenges or other prescription or over-the-counter products available to treat or cure Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) — online or in stores.
    • Do your homework when it comes to donations, whether through charities or crowdfunding sites.  Don’t let anyone rush you into making a donation.  If someone wants donations in cash, by gift card, or by wiring money, DO NOT DO IT.

  • At the outset of the crisis, the Administration implemented sweeping new standards for nursing homes and long-term care facilities to help prevent the spread of COVID-19.  Specifically, the Administration is implementing new guidelines for officials to follow when surveying facilities with confirmed or presumptive cases of coronavirus.  All inspection efforts will focus on ensuring nursing homes in North Carolina and across the nation are complying with infectious disease protocols that have been put into place by the federal government.
     

As always, stay tuned to coronavirus.gov and the NC Department of Health and Human Services' website for the latest on the state and federal response to the outbreak.