COVID-19: Are You at Higher Risk?

Coping tips for people facing greater risk

Adversity affects us all in different ways. That’s because our ability to manage and recover from stress is often impacted by the things that make us unique, like our background, medical histories, and the conditions in which we live, work, and grow. When the characteristics that make you unique also make you more vulnerable to health risks—like becoming severely ill from COVID-19—it can be hard to maintain your physical, emotional, and mental health. It’s natural for older adults, people with underlying health conditions, communities of color and other underserved populations, caregivers, and others facing greater risk to respond more strongly to stress during this pandemic. Learning how to gain the skills and support you need to care for yourself and the people around you can help.

Logo for Resilient Wisconsin: Connected. Stronger. Thriving.

Finding healthy ways to cope with challenges is more important than ever. Resilient Wisconsin offers strategies for practicing self-care, maintaining social connections, and reducing stress and anxiety.

Try these seven strategies

  • Know your status: Are you at greater risk for COVID-19?
  • Protect your physical health: Take steps to stop the spread of COVID-19 and get tested if you experience symptoms. Everyone in Wisconsin ages 16 and older is eligible to get the COVID-19 vaccine at no cost.
  • Know the signs of toxic stress: They include fatigue, illness, fear, withdrawal, guilt, and other intense physical and emotional reactions.
  • Step away from the news: It’s important to stay informed. But make sure to spend time in spaces where COVID-19 isn’t the only focus.
  • Do things you enjoy: Take the time for self-care activities, like staying connected with friends, exercising, reading, or playing a video game with your kids.
  • Talk it out: Try talking about your experiences and feelings with a trusted advisor, a loved one who’ll understand, or a mental health professional. It can help.
  • Ask for and accept help: It’s important to reach out if you feel overwhelmed or concerned that COVID-19 is affecting your ability to care for your family or the people you serve.

Resources to help you stay healthy, manage stress, and adapt to change

People living with mental health and/or substance use concerns

If you have a preexisting mental or behavioral health condition, like depression or harmful substance use, the stress and anxiety of COVID-19—and the disruptions to routine care you may experience—can make taking care of yourself more difficult. Make sure to arrange for alternative care that maintains your treatment plan and medications, be aware of new or worsening symptoms, and work with your provider to find healthy coping strategies that work for you.

A Guide to Sources of Support During COVID-19, P-02670 (PDF)

People living with a mental health concern

People living with a substance use concern

Older adults, people living with disabilities, and their caregivers

Protecting your own health or the health of a loved one as they age or manage a disability can be difficult, even at the best of times. But for people facing increased health risks due to the COVID-19 pandemic, this period of uncertainty can be particularly stressful—for you and your loved ones. Reducing the risk of contracting the virus with practical measures, like frequent handwashing, can help older adults, people living with disabilities, and caregivers reduce stress.

People with health conditions that may increase their vulnerability

COVID-19 is a new disease, and the scientific community is still working to understand all its health effects. But current evidence indicates that people with underlying health conditions, including asthma, obesity, compromised immune systems due to conditions like cancer, HIV or AIDS, and serious or chronic illnesses like kidney, heart, lung or liver disease, may be at higher risk for severe illness from COVID-19. Learning how to manage the stress and anxiety that comes with the increased risks surrounding these conditions is key to supporting your mental and physical health.


Checklist for people with asthma

  • Take medications at the same time every day to control your asthma and allergies.
  • Avoid asthma triggers like exposure to pollens, mold, dust mites, pet dander, rodent droppings, insects, chemicals, and fragrances.
  • Seek guidance from medical providers if you develop COVID-19 symptoms or if asthma symptoms worsen. It’s important to seek treatment before symptoms become severe. Consider the following:
    • Call 911 if you have shortness of breath or severe symptoms.
    • Consult with providers via telemedicine if symptoms are worsening and you are unsure if you need in-person care.
    • Take a self-assessment to determine if you need additional evaluation from a provider.
  • If you live alone, create a support network ahead of time in case you get sick and need extra help.
  • In case you have to go to the hospital, have an emergency plan and give a copy to your support people:
    • Copy of your asthma management plan
    • Contact phone numbers
    • Preferred hospital and address
    • Insurance information
    • Names of primary care and asthma doctors

Communities of color and other underserved populations

As the COVID-19 pandemic has evolved, evidence that the virus has hit some populations harder than others continues to grow. Communities of color and other underserved populations, which have historically faced higher rates of chronic illness, trauma, and health inequities like limited access to health care, have a greater risk of COVID-19 infection and serious illness. If you’re feeling the stress and anxiety that can accompany increased risk, these tools and support services may help.

People living with physical abuse, emotional abuse, or violence in the home

Domestic violence

Staying home isn’t safe for everyone. For thousands of people in Wisconsin living with domestic violence, the COVID-19 pandemic may increase the physical and emotional abuse they experience or witness at home. At the same time, vital social distancing and quarantine measures may isolate victims from friends and family, rule out customary safe harbors like community shelters or an older parent’s home, and make it more difficult for people to get help. If you’re living with domestic abuse, know that you are not alone. There are people, programs, and other resources that can help.

COVID-19 and domestic violence prevention resources:

Injury and violence prevention resources:

  • The National Domestic Violence Helpline recognizes that social distancing during this time can create additional stressors for those who are experiencing physical, sexual, and emotional abuse within the home. Get connected to learn more about resources available to support you.
  • The mental health effects (such as anxiety and depression) of COVID-19 are as important to address as are the physical health effects. Mental Health America of Wisconsin has information and ways to manage stress and anxiety.
  • COVID-19 means unique challenges for parents and families, and it’s important to take opportunities to teach your children important life skills during this difficult time (for example, being caring, helpful, getting on well with siblings, taking turns). The Positive Parenting Program has more tips to encourage positive behavior.
  • The DHS Sexual Violence Prevention website offers additional information and resources.

Spanish resources are available:

  • UNIDOS WI provides direct service in Dane and surrounding counties, as well as statewide education and technical assistance to colleagues and professionals who wish to improve their services to the Latinx community in Wisconsin.
  • The Network/La RED is a 24-hour bilingual hotline for those experiencing violence. It’s a survivor-led social justice organization that works to end partner abuse in lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, SM, polyamorous, and queer communities.

Know the signs: child abuse and neglect

As Wisconsinites protect themselves and their families, children have fewer interactions with many of the professionals trained to observe and mandated to report suspected child abuse.

It is critical now, more than ever, for families, friends, and neighbors to be aware of the signs of child abuse and neglect and to know how to report those signs to their local welfare agencies.

This one-page flyer from the Department of Children and Families can help you and your partners understand the signs of abuse and neglect and know how to report suspected incidents. If you suspect abuse or neglect, contact your county's child protective services (CPS) agency immediately. Your local CPS agency's contact information can be found online or by calling the United Way's resource line by dialing 2-1-1.

Families with children and youth with special health care needs


  • Stay calm and have a plan.
  • Have medications, durable medical equipment (DME), special nutritionals, and other supplies available. Check that equipment is charged and working properly. Plan ahead for additional time for refill requests.
  • Keep family emergency preparedness kits stocked with food, household supplies, and other items. If you have a go-bag, such as an emergency kit for a tracheostomy or gastronomy tube (G-tube), make sure it is complete and stocked with back up supplies.
  • Clean and disinfect DME, assistive technology, and adaptive equipment.
  • Plan for absences and changes in caregivers schedules. Arrange for emergency caregivers in case family members or guardians become ill. Try to assure that children are cared for by people they know so there are minimal separations from familiar caregivers.
  • Consider alternative strategies for limiting visits to your home by professionals and family and friends such as video chats or phone calls.
  • Call your child’s health care provider in advance if you believe that your child needs to be evaluated. Many health care providers are using telehealth visits.


Women who are breastfeeding or pregnant

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) reports that pregnant people are at an increased risk for severe illness from COVID-19 compared to non-pregnant people. The CDC defines pregnant women as an at-risk population because they are known to be at higher risk for severe viral illness due to suppressed immune systems. The body naturally suppresses the immune system during pregnancy to tolerate a developing fetus, which is genetically unique. Therefore, it is important to take precautions that will ensure the health of both mother and baby.

Mothers who are exposed or infected with COVID-19 may breastfeed or express breast milk for their infants while taking precautions to avoid spread of the virus. The Academy of Breastfeeding Medicine released a Statement on Coronavirus 2019 (COVID-19) based on CDC and WHO recommendations.


Maternal and Child Health Resources


Last Revised: June 10, 2021

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