Older people represent 45 percent of Covid-19 hospitalizations, 53 percent of intensive care unit admissions and 80 percent of deaths. Meanwhile, this country’s two most prominent medical journals have published articles exclusively about Covid-19 in children but no articles specifically devoted to the disease in old people.
Fortunately, the needs of the elderly are beginning to get more political and media attention. The Trump administration, recognizing that going into hospitals and clinics for nonurgent but needed appointments put the elderly at unnecessary risk for coronavirus infection, lifted restrictions on telephone and video conferences for Medicare beneficiaries. Social media abounds with stories and images of people paying for an old person’s groceries, delivering food, writing letters, playing music outside nursing homes. There are so many ways to help while still maintaining social distance.
If this pandemic gets as bad as the worst predictions, we may eventually have to offer palliative care to people who might have survived with intensive care. As medical experts have noted, the primary criterion for rationing should be a negligible chance of survival whatever a patient’s age. At the same time, while weeks on a ventilator are damaging to patients young and old, an elderly person’s chance of meaningful recovery from that kind of physical trauma is small.