LUBBOCK, TX — People with intellectual disabilities are at a greater risk of dying from COVID-19, according to medical experts and new studies.
New research from the nonprofit Fair Health found that people with developmental disabilities are three times more likely to die if they have COVID-19, and Public Health England found that people with developmental disabilities could be up to six times more likely to die of COVID-19 complications.
And that’s exactly what’s been worrying Lubbock mother Chelsea Anders since COVID-19 first touched down in the United States. Her five-year-old daughter Olivia Anders loves laughing and making jokes on her iPad. She also has cerebral palsy, something that Anders said makes her family watch her health every day of a given year — let alone during a global pandemic.
“We just don’t know how [COVID-19] would affect “A” anybody and “B” someone like Olivia … I mean even the flu season is a really big deal for families like ours — for any family that has a child or if they themselves have a disability. You just never know. Something as simple as a cold could put you in the hospital long term, so it’s been hard,” Anders said.
During the first two months of the pandemic, Anders said the family never left the house, but as it continued, the isolation wore on Olivia and her three-year-old brother, who she says are very social.
Anders added that she made the tough choice to send her daughter back to in-person kindergarten this semester, and although she worries for her daughter’s safety, it has helped her sleep better and improved her overall emotional wellbeing.
“Every single day that I drop her off at school, I feel this horrible, terrible, heavy weight in the pit of my stomach. Today could be the day that she gets it,” Anders said.
Lubbock physician Dr. Jeremy Dalton, a pediatrician with Covenant Medical Group, echoed the studies’ findings, saying that adults with disabilities are not only at a greater risk of getting COVID-19 but also at a greater risk of developing potentially life-threatening complications. He said he believes it’s because adults with disabilities often also have a number of underlying conditions that predispose them to the virus.
However, when it comes to children with disabilities, surprisingly, he said they can usually overcome COVID-19.
“With children, the vast majority of them have mild symptoms, even if they have some sort of disability, they’re usually not at higher risk for serious illness” Dr. Dalton said.
He added that there can be exceptions, and children with disabilities that also affect their heart and their lungs should pay extra attention. As coronavirus surges in Lubbock, he asked all his patients to be on their guards.
Anders emphasized the best way to help her daughter and families like hers is to follow the doctor’s orders and follow the CDC’s coronavirus safety precautions, especially social distancing and mask wearing.
“This is something very small to ask. We’re not asking for anything unreasonable. It’s just, in my opinion, a basic level of consideration for other people …. It’s the neighborly thing to do. It’s the Christian thing to do. It’s the good person thing to do,” Anders said.
Not only could it save her daughter’s life, she added, but it could also save yours.
“There have been some people that have succumbed to COVID-19 that we would not have expected them to … If you were to get COVID-19 and you were to have a long-term effect, you have just joined our community of people that we are trying to protect. You could be one COVID diagnosis away from having a disability” Anders said.