Covid-19 and heart disease

Find out what the Covid-19 coronavirus means for people with heart conditions. We explain the Alert Level 2 restrictions, give tips on lowering your risk of infection, and tell you where to get support.

In this article

Covid-19 is a new virus that can affect your lungs, airways and sometimes your heart. It is one of a large group of different viruses called coronaviruses.

There is currently no vaccine to stop you getting Covid-19, but there are simple steps that you, your family and whānau can take to reduce your risk of getting it.

I have heart disease, am I more at risk from Covid-19?

Having a heart condition doesn’t make you more likely to catch Covid-19.

However, research from overseas shows that people with heart disease or a heart condition are more likely to have worse symptoms from Covid-19 and have a slightly higher risk of death.

You're also more at risk if you are:

  • over 70
  • have high blood pressure
  • have diabetes
  • are severely obese (have a BMI of 40 or over)
  • have diseases of the lung
  • have other serious illnesses which mean your immune system doesn't work as well.

You can read more about at risk groups of the Ministry of Health website.

If you've got a heart condition or you're in one of the other high-risk groups, it's important you try to avoid getting Covid-19.

But most people who catch Covid-19, including those in high-risk groups, will recover from the virus.

What does Alert Level 2 mean for me?

New Zealand moved to alert Level 2 at 11.59pm on Wednesday 13 May 2020.

Alert Level 2 means the virus is contained but there is still a risk of outbreaks. It allows New Zealanders more freedom to move around and reconnect with close family, whānau and friends. However if you are in an at-risk group, you’ll need to take extra precautions when doing this.

The bubble system no longer exists at Alert Level 2 so you can see close friends and whānau. You should still keep the number of people you interact with small. Try not to interact with people outside your immediate social circle – particularly in public spaces.

It's also important to keep a record of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen.

You will need to weigh up your risk of complications from the virus with the benefits of eased restrictions under Level 2. If you’re unsure, about your personal risk, call your GP or Healthline on 0800 358 5453.

How to avoid getting Covid-19

There are a number of things you can do at Alert Level 2 to stay safe and reduce your risk of catching the virus.

  • Reconnect with smaller groups of close family, whānau and friends, but don't interact with people outside your own social circle.
  • Keep a two metre distance from people you don't know in public places and take extra care with hygiene practices.
  • Avoid touching surfaces and wash your hands before and after you leave home.
  • Wipe keys, handrails and regularly touched surfaces.
  • Avoid passing around your mobile phone to other people.
  • If your health care provider advises you to wear a mask because you have a particularly vulnerable immune system, follow that advice.

Shopping

At Alert Level 2, it's ok for you to go to shops if you feel safe to do so. Otherwise continue to use online shopping if that's preferable for you.
If you're doing the shopping yourself, here are some tips to help keep you safe:

  • Wash your hands before and after you shop.
  • Take clean reusable shopping bags.
  • Stay two metres away from others.
  • If you like, take a soapy towel in a small container to wipe down the trolley or basket handles.
  • Only touch what you intend to buy.
  • If you can, use a contactless payment method – like payWave, PayPass or Apple Pay.
  • If you are using cash or touch the EFTPOS machine, do not touch your face until you have been able to thoroughly wash your hands.
  • Bag groceries away from others if you can.
  • Wash your hands when you get home.

There are more tips on reducing the risk of infection while shopping on the Covid-19 website.

Do I have to stay in my bubble?

No. The bubble system no longer exists under Alert Level 2. It's ok to see close friends and whānau, but avoid interacting with people you don't know. Follow social distancing measures when in public places. Keep a record of where you've been and who you've seen.

Should I go to work?

If possible, work from home.

If you cannot work from home, you should agree with your employer what measures will be put in place to manage your health and safety.

Options for managing your health and safety might include:

  • Working at times where there are fewer other workers around 
  • Increased physical distancing where possible 
  • Additional protective measures or equipment
  • Undertaking duties with lower levels of customer interaction (in the office, rather than the frontline).

If you and your employer agree that you shouldn't come to work during this period, and you can't work from home, then you'll need to discuss what leave from work and pay arrangements apply. This could be a mixture of paid leave types (e.g., annual leave, special paid leave) or unpaid leave.

For more information about working, visit the government employment website.

Going outside

Can I go outside for exercise?

Yes you can. You can exercise locally or drive to other areas to exercise.

When you're out, it's still a good idea to:

  • Stay two metres away from anyone else
  • Avoid touching things that others may have touched like park benches and hand railings
  • Wash your hands thoroughly when you return home.

What about fitness centres, sports and other recreational activities?

At Level 2, a lot of other regular recreation activities will restart. 

Gyms, swimming pools and other recreational facilities will be reopening in coming weeks, but with restrictions for physical distancing and hygiene measures.

The Government is currently in discussions with sports groups to decide what rules will apply to community sports.

You’ll need to speak to your local facility or sports club to find out exactly how these rules will apply to them.

The Ministry of Health is also advising those in high risk groups to take additional precautions when participating in exercise – including cleaning gym equipment before and after use and being cautious when participating in contact sports.

Can I go to restaurants, cafes or social gatherings?

At Alert Level 2 you can go to cafes and restaurants, if you feel safe to do so.

However it’s very important to practice social distancing and good hygiene (avoid touching surfaces, hand washing, cough etiquette, wiping frequently touched surfaces)

You’ll also need to abide by the current restrictions on gatherings. At the moment that means:

  • only 10 people at a gathering.
  • only 2 hours at a time. 

You can read more about these restrictions on the government's Covid 19 website. These restrictions will be regularly reviewed and may change during Alert Level 2. 

It’s also important you keep a record of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen.  

Do I need a mask/gloves when I go out? 

Personal Protective Equipment (PPE) will only be necessary in the same workplaces as it was before Covid-19, like hospitals. Most people will not need PPE. 

However if your healthcare professional has recommended you wear a mask because of your condition, you should follow their instructions.

Otherwise basic hygiene measures are the most important way to stop the spread of Covid-19. 

That includes:  

  • Hand hygiene – washing hands regularly with soap and water, or cleansing with hand sanitiser if it’s not possible to wash your hands. 
  • Staying at home if you are sick. 
  • Coughing or sneezing into a tissue or your elbow and then performing hand hygiene. 
  • Cleaning surfaces regularly.

What about transport in my local area?

If possible use your own car, or get a ride with someone in your household.

If you're using public transport, make sure you follow hygiene and social distancing rules while you’re out. Also

  • If possible, take public transport at off-peak times.
  • Avoid sitting next to someone you don’t know, or standing.
  • Do not travel if you are displaying symptoms of Covid-19, awaiting a test, or if you need to self-isolate.

If you take a taxi or ride-sharing service such as Uber, remember to:

  • Use hand sanitiser before and after you enter or exit a vehicle if possible and wash your hands thoroughly when you get home.
  • Sit in the rear passenger seats only and as far as possible from the driver. You are not allowed to sit in the front passenger seat.

Taking heart medication

It's important to keep taking your heart medication as prescribed.

This includes ACE inhibitors (angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors and ARBs (angiotensin receptor blockers). At the moment, there is no evidence to suggest these medications make Covid-19 worse. 

If you stop taking your medication, your heart condition could get worse and you may be at greater risk of a heart attack or stroke.

Heart Foundation Medical Director Gerry Devlin strongly advises people living with heart conditions to continue taking all their medications unless otherwise advised by their doctor.

"There has been some speculation concerning the safety of angiotensin converting enzyme inhibitors (ACE-i) and angiotensin receptor blockers (ARBs) in relation to Coronavirus (COVID-19) infection. There is no clinical evidence or scientific basis to support the speculation.

"ACE-i and ARBs are common medications used to treat high blood pressure, heart failure and people who have suffered a heart attack.

"Stopping your medication for high blood pressure and heart conditions could be dangerous and it's important people continue taking medications as prescribed by your doctor," says Gerry.

Medical appointments

Under Alert Level 2, there will be more face-to-face medical appointments. Phone consultations will still be used in some instances. 

Call the doctor or hospital to book appointments and find out if you need to attend your appointment in person. 

For medical emergencies, call 111 immediately.

Getting a flu shot

If you haven't already got a flu vaccination, it's a good idea to get one as soon as possible.

A flu shot won't stop you getting coronavirus, but it will help you stay as healthy as possible and reduce the burden on hospitals.

What if my heart condition symptoms get worse?

If the symptoms of your heart conditions are getting worse, call your doctor to discuss them.

You need to call 111 immediately if you experience heart attack symptoms.

Delaying treatment for a heart attack can damage your heart.

Who can I call with questions about my heart condition and Covid-19?

The Heart Foundation has a nurse-run free phone line for advice about heart conditions and can give information on Covid-19 and the heart.

The Heart Helpline is available on 0800 863 375 Monday to Friday 9.00am to 5.00pm.

If you have questions on weekends or public holidays, you can email hearthealthinfo@heartfoundation.org.nz. We will respond to you the next business day.

Can I travel within New Zealand?

You can now travel within New Zealand if you need to.

If you are travelling, it's important to:

  • maintain appropriate physical distancing and hygiene measures.
  • keep your distance from people you don't know.
  • minimise the number of places you stop on the way to your destination.
  • follow the physical distancing measures outlined by operators if using public transport.
  • and keep a record of where you have been and who you have been in contact with.

What if I have Covid-19 symptoms?

The main symptoms of Covid-19 are:

  • a cough
  • a high temperature (at least 38°C)
  • difficulty breathing
  • sore throat
  • sneezing and runny nose
  • temporary loss of smell.

If you've got Covid-19 symptoms call Healthline free on 0800 358 5453 or you call your doctor as soon as possible. They will tell you if you need to be tested and give you any other medical advice you need to follow. Difficulty breathing can be a possible sign of pneumonia and requires medical attention. 

If it is a medical emergency call 111 immediately. 

Try to self-isolate from other members of your household as much as possible. You can find more information on self-isolating at the government's Covid-19 website.

Where can I find out more information?

You can read general advice about Alert Level 2 on the Government’s Covid 19 website. It also has specific advice for 'at risk' people during Alert Level 2.

Caring for someone with a heart condition 

I’m caring for someone with a heart condition, how can I help them?

  • Keep your social circles small. Under Alert Level 2 both you and the person you care for are able to start seeing friends and whānau again. However, it’s important to keep those social circles small and keep a track of where you’ve been and who you’ve seen.
  • Reduce the risk of bringing Covid-19 into your household. Follow the hygiene and social distancing measures outlined on the government’s Covid-19 website.
  • Reassure them. The majority of people who catch Covid-19 – even those in high-risk groups – will recover from the virus.
  • Look after yourself. You can’t care for your loved one, if you’re sick yourself. Read our advice on staying fit and healthy during Covid-19 lockdown.

The person I’m caring for is showing increased symptoms of their heart condition. What should I do?

If someone has heart attack symptoms call 111 immediately. Any delay in treatment for a heart event can cause further damage to the heart.

If they're experiencing increased, non-urgent heart symptoms, make an appointment with their GP to discuss.

Alternatively, if you have questions about heart conditions and Covid-19, call our nurse-run help line on 0800 863 375. They are available Monday to Friday, 9.00am-5.00pm.

If you have questions on weekends or public holidays, you can email hearthealthinfo@heartfoundation.org.nz and a nurse will respond the next business day.

I'm caring for someone with heart disease. Should we both get a flu shot?

People with heart disease are in the high-risk category and should get their flu shot as soon as possible. Contact their GP or local pharmacy to make an appointment.

If you are caring for someone with heart disease, you might want to get a vaccination as well. 

If you’re not in a high-risk category yourself, you will need to pay for the vaccination. Speak to your GP or your local pharmacy about when it will be available for you and how much it will cost.

What if the person I'm caring for shows Covid-19 symptoms?

Immediately call your GP or Healthline on  0800 358 5453. They will advise on Covid-19 testing.

What if I get Covid-19 symptoms?

Call your GP or Healthline on 0800 358 5453 and they will advise on Covid-19 testing.

While you are waiting for the result, you will need to self- isolate within your household.

How do I self-isolate within our household?

It is more difficult to self-isolate within a household, but it's particularly important if it includes someone who is at greater risk from Covid-19. Here are some tips: 

  • Do not share a bed. If possible, avoid sleeping in the same room as anyone else.
  • If possible, do not share a bathroom. 
  • If you have to share a bathroom, use your own roll of toilet paper, towel, hand towel, soap, toothbrush, toothpaste and other supplies. 
  • In the kitchen, have your own plates, cutlery and other utensils.
  • Regularly clean surfaces such as benches, door handles, table tops and electronic items.
  • Minimise the amount of time you spend in shared spaces such as the lounge, kitchen and bathrooms.
  • Do not prepare food for other people in your bubble.
  • Do your own laundry.
  • Wash your hands regularly and maintain other personal hygiene standards.

You can read more on the Covid-19 website.

I'm back at work, how do I reduce the risk of infecting the person I'm caring for?

If you're back at work, make sure you follow your organisation's protocols for minimising infection risk.

You may wish to change into clean clothes when you return home and wash your work clothing.

Maintain good hygiene measures at all time.

Some workers who have high-risk people in their household may consider taking leave from work. This is something to discuss with your employer. You can read more about this on the Covid 19 website.

My partner is in hospital, can I visit?

Yes. Under Alert Level 2, it is possible to visit someone in hospital, as long as they don’t have Covid-19, and neither of you are showing symptoms.

The number of visitors allowed per patient per day depends on where they are, and discretion may be applied on a case by case basis. Check with the hospital before visiting.

Can the person I support start going to their day programme again? 

Check with the day care provider. Under Alert Level 2, these programmes are likely to be opening up again.

Contact our heart help nurses