CDC Expands List of Groups at Risk for COVID-19

pregnant woman at doctor's desk
The CDC has identified more groups at high-risk for COVID-19, including pregnant women.

Kemal Yildirim / Getty Images

Key Takeaways

  • The CDC broadened its list of conditions associated with severe COVID-19 risk, as well as conditions that might be associated with COVID-19 risk.
  • People of any age with an underlying health condition are at risk of developing a severe form of COVID-19.
  • Even without a health condition, risk increases as you get older.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has expanded its list of people considered high-risk for becoming severely ill from COVID-19.

In a June 25 press release, the CDC said a review of reports and data sources prompted the update. Both sickle cell disease and pregnancy, for example, are now considered high-risk or potentially high-risk.

The organization also removed the age threshold from its "older adult" classification. Now, rather than saying adults 65 and older are at an increased risk of COVID-19, the CDC warns risk "increases steadily as you age."

What This Means For You

COVID-19 can affect anyone. But if you have an underlying health condition, you might have a higher-than-normal risk. Do your best to continue to practice known methods of preventing the spread of the disease, and talk to your doctor if you have questions or concerns.

Which Conditions Are Considered High-Risk?

According to the CDC, the most recent list of underlying medical conditions that put someone at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19 includes:

  • Chronic kidney disease
  • COPD (chronic obstructive pulmonary disease)
  • Obesity (defined as a body mass index of 30 or higher)
  • Serious heart conditions, such as heart failure, coronary artery disease, or cardiomyopathies
  • Sickle cell disease
  • Type 2 diabetes
  • A weakened immune system from an organ transplant

People of any age affected by these conditions have an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19.

The CDC says the following health conditions might put someone at an increased risk of severe illness from COVID-19:

  • Moderate to severe asthma
  • Cerebrovascular disease
  • Cystic fibrosis
  • Hypertension (high blood pressure)
  • Neurologic conditions, such as dementia
  • Liver disease
  • Pregnancy
  • Pulmonary fibrosis (having damaged or scarred lung tissues)
  • Smoking
  • Thalassemia (a type of blood disorder)
  • Type 1 diabetes
  • Being in an immunocompromised state from things like blood or bone marrow transplant, immune deficiencies, HIV, or the use of corticosteroids

What's Changed?

The new guidance includes both additions and updates to previously-identified high-risk categories.

“The medical and science community continues to learn more about these risk groups as the COVID-19 pandemic continues,” Shital Patel, MD, an assistant professor of medicine in infectious diseases at Baylor College of Medicine, tells Verywell.

Age

The new guidance says that the risk of developing a severe case of COVID-19 increases with age. Previously, the CDC limited age-related risk to those 65 and older.

While the CDC does make clear that people 85 and older are at the greatest risk for severe illness, for the most part, it offers generalities.

“People in their 50s are at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 40s,” the guidance says. “Similarly, people in their 60s or 70s are, in general, at higher risk for severe illness than people in their 50s."

BMI

Previously, the CDC said people with a BMI of 40 or over (classified as "severely obese") faced a higher risk of COVID-19. Now, that figure is 30 or over (classified as "obese").

Pregnancy

The CDC added pregnancy to its expanded list of underlying health conditions that could potentially put someone at greater risk for a severe case of COVID-19.

This addition is likely due to a study published in the June 26 Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report that analyzed more than 8,000 pregnant women in the U.S. diagnosed with COVID-19. Data showed that pregnant women were 50% more likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than women who were infected and not pregnant, and 70% more likely to need a ventilator.

What to Do If You Fall Into One of These Categories

If you're considered high-risk, it's important to continue to do your best to lower your risk of contracting COVID-19.

“Everyone that wants to decrease the risk of infection needs to decrease the risk of potential exposure,” Patel says. The CDC has a long list of recommendations, from how to meet up with friends to specific actions to take based on your health condition. But, in general, the organization reiterates the following:

  • Keep in mind that the more people you interact with, the more closely you interact with them, and the longer those interactions last, the higher your risk of getting and spreading COVID-19.
  • If you decide to go out in public, continue to protect yourself by practicing preventive actions like social distancing, wearing a facial covering, and washing your hands regularly with soap and water.
  • Keep a cloth facial covering, tissues, and a hand sanitizer with at least 60% alcohol on hand.

Keep in mind that having an underlying health condition doesn’t mean you are guaranteed to get COVID-19, severe or mild.

“These are associations, not causes,” David Cutler, MD, a family medicine physician at Providence Saint John’s Health Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Verywell.

Still, Cutler says it's more important than ever to manage your condition by taking your prescription, eating well, exercising, and checking in with your doctor. Above all, he says you should stay socially distant and wear a mask.

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Article Sources
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  1. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19: older adults. Updated June 25, 2020.

  2. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. About Adult BMI. Updated June 18, 2020.

  3. Ellington S, Strid P, Tong VT, et al. Characteristics of women of reproductive age with laboratory-confirmed SARS-CoV-2 infection by pregnancy status — United States, January 22–June 7, 2020. MMWR Morb Mortal Wkly Rep. 2020;69:769–775. doi:10.15585/mmwr.mm6925a1

  4. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. COVID-19: People of any age with underlying medical conditions. Updated June 25, 2020.