A warning for diabetics during COVID-19 pandemic

Posted at 6:00 AM, Mar 26, 2020

A Santa Barbara-based clinic and research institute is launching an emergency response program for people at high-risk of developing severe COVID-19 infections.

As the coronavirus has spread worldwide, endocrinologist Dr. David Kerr has been developing new resources for his diabetic patients.

“We've known for a long time that if someone has diabetes and their blood sugar levels are running high, it increases the risk for infection,” Dr. Kerr said.

It’s something he sees every year during flu season but data from China and Italy show the outcome for diabetics who catch COVID-19 is concerning.

That’s why the Sansum Diabetes Research Institute in Santa Barbara is launching the COVID-19 Diabetes Emergency Response.

“The aim is all about preventing people with diabetes ending up in the critical care unit,” Dr. Kerr said.

Through the emergency response program, trained staff are reaching out to local residents with diabetes to warn them of their increased risk for the coronavirus and urge them to prioritize managing their condition to reduce that risk.

“We're contacting people that we know with diabetes in local communities who we have a recent, what's called A1C value which measures their diabetes control. If it's been high recently, we want to reach out to them,” he said.

For diabetics who do contract COVID-19, Dr. Kerr’s team will provide resources and advice on how to manage the illness quarantined at home.

Some of those resources are available online and in Spanish.

“The risk is particularly high for the local Hispanic/Latino population because we know they have double the rates of diabetes compared to the background population,” Dr. Kerr said.

Researchers at the Sansum Diabetes Research Center have found up to 30 percent of local Latino diabetics have a high A1C value, putting them at even greater odds of getting the virus.

On, patients can find bilingual information to help manage their diabetes and reduce COVID-19 risk. The information is updated daily and is based on data from the Centers for Disease Control, the World Health Organization and other reputable medical organizations.

“It's in English and Spanish. It's easy to read. Easy to access, easy to understand.”

With orders to stay at home, Dr. Kerr says diabetics need to take stock of their supplies, medication and refills right away.

“If possible, use mail order [to refill prescriptions] simply to avoid contact with someone who may be carrying the virus,” he said.

Dr. Kerr says he is hopeful.

“What we do know is, if you have pretty good or good control of your diabetes, you're not at increased risk it seems at the moment.”

He tells patients to take their medicine, test blood sugar levels, exercise and stay calm.

“As well as the physical risk for people with diabetes, there's also the mental stress of worrying about what could happen,” Dr. Kerr said. “Stress as we all know, is another cause of difficulty in controlling blood sugar levels.”

The Sansum Diabetes Research Institute is raising money to set up an emergency hotline so people can call medical professionals for help anytime.