The right way to defend susceptible autistic adults through the coronavirus pandemic | Spectrum
Research scientist, Drexel University
With the highly contagious Delta variant of the coronavirus challenging efforts to contain the COVID-19 pandemic, protecting the weak among us is important – especially adults with autism, intellectual disabilities, or mental illnesses. Due to their living situation and the health conditions that occur at the same time, these people have an increased risk of contracting COVID-19 and suffering serious complications from it.
Those who live in communal facilities such as shared flats or residential facilities may have difficulty maintaining physical distance from other residents or carers. Such settings can result in outdated ventilation systems that are not adequately equipped to filter virus particles. Adults receiving services at home may be at increased risk of coronavirus exposure from multiple health care providers, which could be even higher in the case of staff shortages or fluctuations in the health workforce. And adults with mobility issues may have difficulty accessing COVID-19 vaccines, tests, and medical services.
In addition, adults with autism, intellectual disability, or mental illness often have physical health problems – including chronic kidney disease, heart disease, obesity, and diabetes – that put them at increased risk of developing serious illness from COVID-19. We need to ensure that these adults are protected by appropriate mitigation measures wherever they live or work.
Counting risk factors:
My colleagues and I tried to quantify these people’s risks to help shape health policy related to COVID-19. We examined data from adults enrolled at Medicaid for at least nine consecutive months from 2008 to 2012, including more than 646,000 adults with autism or intellectual disabilities, and a random sample of more than 1 million adults without autism or intellectual disabilities, approximately one of which Third is mentally ill. We reported our results in August in Autism.
We found that about half of autistic and non-autistic adults with intellectual disabilities lived in a residential facility, compared with just 1 percent of the population without any developmental or mental health diagnoses. About one-fifth to one-third of adults with autism or intellectual disability and one-tenth of adults with a mental health diagnosis received regular home care from external caregivers, compared with 3 percent of the population with no developmental or mental health diagnoses.
The majority of adults with autism, intellectual disabilities, or mental illnesses were also hospitalized for preventable illnesses during the study period, indicating inadequate access to medical care. Specifically, 52 percent of autistic adults without intellectual disabilities, 69 percent of autistic adults with intellectual disabilities, 67 percent of adults with intellectual disabilities but not autism, and 65 percent of adults with other mental health diagnoses had an avoidable hospital stay, compared with 4 percent of adults without these conditions.
In addition, these populations were more likely to have a condition identified by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control & Prevention as a higher risk of serious illness from COVID-19, including cancer, chronic lung disease, diabetes, and severe obesity, has been classified. Only 16 percent of people without developmental or mental health diagnoses had one or more of these physical health diagnoses, while 29 percent of autistic adults without intellectual disabilities, 32 percent of autistic adults with intellectual disabilities, 38 percent of adults with intellectual disabilities but not autism, and 43 percent of adults with other mental illnesses were diagnosed with at least one of these physical illnesses. Your likelihood of having any of these conditions remains higher than the general Medicaid population after reviewing traits such as age, gender, race, ethnicity, Medicaid insurance mechanism, dual entitlement status, and state.
Given these vulnerabilities, care providers, lawyers, and health officials need to work to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in populations with developmental and mental health diagnoses.
For families whose relatives have a developmental or psychological diagnosis, it is important to take as many risk reduction measures as possible in order to create a risk buffer. Most importantly, families must make every effort to ensure that their loved ones and all eligible people around them, including caregivers, service providers, family members and friends, are vaccinated for a basic level of protection. Previous research suggests that the best way to reach developmental disorder populations for vaccination is through a known, trusted provider.
Next is a multi-pronged approach to risk reduction – including vaccination (and, if necessary, for adults exposed to multiple caregivers during the day or week, a portable HEPA air filter can help remove virus particles from the air. Family members and caregivers of Relatives living in a residential facility can speak to facility managers about ventilation to ensure that where their loved ones are staying, there are six or more air changes per hour.
Although individuals and families can take steps to reduce the risk of COVID-19 in adults with developmental disabilities and mental illness, it is also important that employers, local and state health officials, and federal spokesmen help protect these vulnerable populations through vaccination and immunization measures by taking measures to protect these additional mitigation measures.
Whitney Schott is a research fellow at the AJ Drexel Autism Institute at Drexel University in Philadelphia, Pennsylvania.
Quote this article: https://doi.org/10.53053/ALEF2791