Understanding COVID-19

Last Updated: 5/23/2022

What is COVID-19?

COVID-19 is the nickname for coronavirus. COVID-19 is making people sick all over the world, including people in your community. People with disabilities and underlying medical conditions are at a higher risk of getting sick with COVID-19.

How do you get COVID-19? How does it make you sick?

  • COVID-19 is spread through germs from people.
  • These germs can be spread when someone who has COVID-19 coughs, sneezes, or when their germs get into the air or on things you touch.
  • If you get COVID-19, it can make you feel sick and tired and even make you go to the hospital.
  • COVID-19 has made many people sick, especially people with disabilities and health conditions.
  • Some of the things that happen when you have COVID-19 are:
    • Have a cough
    • Have a hard time breathing
    • Run a fever
    • Feel achy and tired

I have a disability. Why am I at a higher risk of getting sick and dying from COVID-19?

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) says people with 1 or more medical conditions are 1.5 times more likely to die from COVID-19 (Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 2021). People with disabilities may have a higher risk of getting very sick or dying if they get COVID-19 because:

  • The type of disability you have can make you very sick if you get COVID-19.
  • Your disability might mean you have a weaker immune system.
  • COVID-19 can make the symptoms you already have get worse.
  • If you have a breathing disability, getting COVID-19 can make it a lot harder to breathe.
  • You may have limited mobility or cannot avoid coming into close contact with others who may be infected, such as direct support providers and family members.
  • You may have a hard time understanding information about COVID-19.
  • You may have difficulty washing your hands and staying at least 6 feet away from others to protect yourself from COVID-19.
  • You may not be able to communicate or explain how you are feeling.
  • Social factors may increase your risk of serious illness from COVID-19.

What social reasons put me at risk because of my disability?

Many other reasons may put you at an increased risk, such as where you live, lack of access to medical care, costs of medical care, or the type of disability you have. Please see below for some examples:

Where you live

  • You might live far away from COVID-19 vaccination centers, testing sites, doctor’s offices, and other medical help.
  • If you live in a care facility.
  • You may live in an area that does not have public transportation and/or do not have your transportation.
  • If you live far away from your doctor, you might not get help until much later.

Access to Medical Care

People with disabilities are at higher risk because going to the doctor and getting care can be more challenging. Below are some of the reasons why going to the doctor can be harder for people with disabilities.

  • You may not have been able to get to medical exams because the doctor’s office is not accessible.
  • You may not have received proper care because the devices or medical table were not accessible.
  • You may have felt like the nurses, doctors, or other medical staff had a negative attitude toward your or your disability.
  • You may have had a hard time understanding what your doctor or medical staff were telling you.
  • You may have felt your disability was ignored.
  • You may have felt that the doctor or medical staff didn't understand your disability.
  • You may have gone to the doctor before and felt they didn’t know how to care for you.
  • You may have felt that you did not get the treatment you needed.


  • You might not have health insurance.
  • Without insurance, you might be less likely to go to the doctor or hospital because of the cost.
  • You may have other costs like childcare, transportation, parking, or missing work that might make it harder to get to a free COVID-19 testing or vaccination site.

Your type of disability, where you live, access to care, and cost are all things that might keep you away from the doctor or a free testing site.

  • If you can’t get tested, you don’t know if you have COVID-19.
  • If you don’t know if you have COVID-19, you can accidentally give COVID-19 to other people.
  • If you don’t know you have COVID-19, you might get very sick before getting help.
  • You might not want to go to the doctor. If you don’t go to the doctor, you might not learn you are sick until much later, when you could be much sicker and have a hard time getting better.

It is important that people with disabilities who are at high risk get the COVID-19 vaccine as soon as they can.

How do I protect myself from getting COVID-19?

  • Wash your hands with soap and water or use hand sanitizer.
  • Stay away from large groups of people if possible.
  • Wear a face mask when you are around other people.
  • Get a COVID-19 vaccine. Stay up to date on your vaccine and booster shots.

What can you do?

  • You can schedule your vaccine by:
    • Calling the SC Disability Vaccine Access Hotline at 1-800-787-6046
    • Calling the Disability Information and Access Line 888-677-1199 Monday-Friday from 9 a.m. to 8 p.m. (Eastern) - or - email DIAL@usaginganddisability.org
  • You can learn more about COVID-19 vaccines by visiting SCDisabilityVaccine.org.

What do I do if I think I have COVID-19?