Remarks at a High-Level Panel on COVID-19 and Older Persons at the UN Open-Ended Working Group on Ageing

Mara Burr
Director of Multilateral Relations, Office for Global Affairs
U.S. Department of Health and Human Services
Washington, D.C.
March 30, 2021


In the United States, the Coronavirus disease 2019 (COVID-19) pandemic has disproportionately impacted older adults; eight of 10 COVID-19 deaths reported in the United States have been in adults age 65 years or older.

Adherence to public health recommendations amid COVID-19 has been critical to reduce infections and save lives, but has also increased experiences of loneliness and social isolation. Some older adults have had delays in receiving or seeking treatment and necessary medical care.

The United States government has leveraged the capability of technology-enabled solutions and our networks to meet the needs of individuals, including older adults, amid COVID-19.

For example, the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services’ (HHS) Centers for Medicare and Medicaid Services expanded telehealth coverage for a wider range of healthcare services amid the pandemic. HHS’s Administration for Community Living (ACL), coordinated a health innovation challenge competition for technology-enabled solutions to address loneliness and social isolation among older adults, persons with disabilities, and Veterans. HHS’s National Institute on Aging also released funding opportunities to strengthen capacity and research development to support COVID-19 testing in traditionally underserved communities.

The pandemic has highlighted barriers around technology-enabled solutions such equitable access for individuals across the socioeconomic spectrum, exacerbated by differences in digital infrastructure; lack of person-centered design considering older persons’ needs; affordability; and the need for scalable solutions validated by robust evaluation.

We are mobilizing exiting networks and applying new ways of working to support older adults as they navigate the COVID-19 environment. This includes:

  • Activating the aging services network to design and implement creative ways to ensure older adults who need nutrition assistance still receive it.
  • Increasing services such as telephone reassurance outreach and virtual wellness checks to combat loneliness and social isolation.
  • Engaging in innovative practices to maintain activity and connection such as online exercise classes and musical events, and sending games, puzzles, art projects and even seed packets with food boxes to keep older adults active while at home.
  • Forming new partnerships, such as with academic institutions that have engaged students in activities to reduce social isolation and utilizing health care providers to deliver vaccinations to homebound older adults.