People at higher risk for severe illness

Last updated May 16, 2022

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Anyone can get sick with COVID-19. Some people are at higher risk of getting very sick. Getting very sick means that a person might need hospitalization, intensive care, or a ventilator to help them breathe. They might even die. 

People can be at high risk for different reasons. Some people have multiple reasons why they are at risk. The more overlapping risk factors you have, the more likely it is that you might get very sick. People with overlapping risk factors may need to take more precautions to stay healthy.

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 helps reduce risk for everyone. Keeping up with all the recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from getting very sick. 

You can also take preventive actions to protect yourself. These include wearing a mask, keeping six feet of distance from people who don’t live with you, avoiding crowds, and washing your hands frequently.

If you test positive for COVID-19, you may be able to get treatment to help you get better. It’s important that people seek treatment within a few days of testing positive. Some people can also take preventive medicine to keep from getting sick. Learn more about treatment and prevention.

The following groups of people may be at higher risk for severe COVID-19. Talking with a health care provider can help you learn more about your specific risk factors and what you can do to protect yourself.

Older adults

Older adults are more likely to get very sick with COVID-19 compared to younger people. The risk increases for people in their 50s and increases even more for people in their 60s, 70s, and 80s. People aged 85 years and older are the most likely to get very sick. Older adults are also more likely to have underlying health conditions that make it harder to cope with and recover from illness.

Because of this, people aged 50 years and older can receive a fourth – or in some cases a fifth – dose of the COVID-19 vaccine. This is also called a second booster dose. CDC recommends that people aged 65 years and older especially consider a fourth or fifth dose. Talking with a health care provider can help you learn more about whether it’s best for you to get another dose, but this is not required to make an appointment.

Older adults who test positive for COVID-19 and are at risk of getting very sick may be eligible for therapeutic treatment. Learn more about COVID-19 treatment.

More resources for older adults

People with existing medical conditions

Some medical conditions make it more likely for you to get very sick with COVID-19. These include cancer, heart disease, lung disease, kidney disease, diabetes, obesity, pregnancy, mental health conditions, and HIV. CDC has more information about medical conditions that can put people at higher risk.

People with immunocompromising conditions may be able to receive additional doses of the COVID-19 vaccine to make sure their immune system can fight the virus. Learn more about how many doses you may need if you are immunocompromised. Some immunocompromised people may also be able to take preventive medicine to keep from getting sick.

In general, managing your medical conditions can help reduce your risk. 

  • Continue to take your prescribed medications on time and as directed. 

  • Eat healthy foods and exercise if possible. 

  • If you use tobacco, consider quitting. The Colorado QuitLine offers phone and web coaching, motivational text messages, and quit medications like patches and gum. Visit www.coquitline.org or call 1-800-QUIT-NOW for free support without judgment.

People with medical conditions are at risk of getting very sick if they test positive for COVID-19 and may be able to receive treatment. Learn more about COVID-19 treatment.

More resources for people with medical conditions

Click on a topic to see more resources. This list of conditions is not exhaustive.

People at risk for social and environmental reasons

Some people are at increased risk of getting very sick or dying from COVID-19 because of social and environmental conditions. These conditions are called social determinants of health. They are not the result of individual choices, but historical barriers like systemic racism and discrimination.  

Living in a congregate setting, like a nursing home, shelter, or dormitory, may also put you at higher risk of COVID-19. Working at a job that requires you to be in close contact with many other people every day may put you at higher risk as well. Your risk goes up if you have other risk factors at the same time, like age or medical conditions.

Getting vaccinated against COVID-19 helps reduce risk for everyone. Keeping up with all the recommended doses of the COVID-19 vaccine is the best way to protect yourself from getting very sick. Wearing a mask in crowded places can also help reduce your risk.

More resources for people who live or work with many other people and their loved ones