Undoubtedly, after hours and hours of CNN and network news coverage, we are all “experts” on coronavirus, something we likely knew nothing about entering this new year. How it spreads, what to do to avoid it, how to practice social distancing, sheltering in place—all part of our new vocabulary in this stressful time. Just as it affects our daily lives, it also affects life insurance applications and how we are handling different steps in the process.
One thing about previous coronaviruses was that they were nowhere near as virulent as the COVID-19 one that is currently causing havoc. It’s similar to (but obviously not identical to) the previous SARS virus that we got through years ago—this being the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2). This is the virus that causes COVID-19. COVID-19 is actually one of seven types of coronavirus that cause severe disease such as Middle East respiratory syndrome (MERS) and sudden acute respiratory syndrome (SARS). The others are much less severe and cause symptoms more like the common cold or mild flu would.
The major symptoms of COVID-19 include a dry hacking cough, fever, and severe fatigue. Unlike the flu-type symptoms we all have had at one time or another, this virus progresses to severe difficulty breathing, chest pain, confusion, and almost an inability to wake up. Symptoms can appear in as few as two days and to a maximum of 14 days after exposure, hence the 14 day quarantine rule.
The spread of COVID-19 has given the scientists the most pause in limiting and containing its spread. COVID-19 spreads when someone coughs or sneezes, and the spray of particles as far as six feet (hence the six feet social distancing parameters) can spread the contagious virus. You get it not only from breathing them in, but also from touching a surface that they land on. It can stay on a copper surface for four hours, cardboard (like an infamous Amazon delivery) for 24 hours and plastic or stainless steel for two days. It is also spread by carriers who have few or even none of the symptoms we’d associate even with a cold, so the social distancing of even asymptomatic people is key.
We’ve heard from the media enough about what damage infection from the coronavirus brings. Exposure in older people and in people whose immune systems are compromised can result in severe symptoms, the need for an external respirator, and death. The incidence of mortality is striking, particularly in countries like Italy and Spain and in emerging endemic areas here in the United States. Those with even mild or very occasional asthma which is well controlled have trouble handling the virus. And there are enough incidences of people who are in excellent physical shape coming down with the virus and it resulting in catastrophe.
Life insurers are adapting different rules to cope with the uncertainty that coronavirus brings to the potential insured. Certain countries are quite endemic in Coronavirus incidence, and as such those who have returned from any country on the CDC website identified as such problemsome are generally postponed for at least 30 days. The same holds true for those who are planning foreign travel—a 30 day postponement until return to the United States holds.
Whereas little usually happens between approval and receipt of the policy, a statement of health on policy delivery is now likely to be required. Many companies will no longer accept cash with the application to bind coverage as underwriting is proceeding. And, of course, more medical records in the recent time period are needed to be ordered.
Other cases in susceptible people are being watched more closely because of COVID-19. Those age 60 or over and those risks who are substandard (and have more co-morbids to watch out for) are not having any records or requirements waived. Those who have had a recent flu, pneumonia or cold will likely also have to wait to see a resolution of symptoms, again at least three to four weeks post onset. Doctors and nurses, as well as all first responders, will likely be asked about their potential exposure to COVID-19 and whether they were either self-quarantined or tested for the virus.
While there will be a point (hopefully quite soon) when COVID-19 cases plateau and decrease, little is known about the re-infective potential of the disease at a future time. Vaccines and treatments are still unproven and in the pipeline at this time and cannot be relied upon for safety and efficacy. One last point about treatment: Several medications (such as hydroxychloroquine and chloroquine) are being given empirically to COVID patients hoping they will work. A creed of the Hippocratic oath for doctors is “Above all do no harm.” The medications may have marked side effects and cause significant and disabling side effects for people, especially those taking the drugs empirically and not as a last resort in treating severe infection.