The uncertainty of life during the pandemic, in which coronavirus cases dramatically rise and fall in monthslong cycles, has baffled researchers and exhausted the public.

Many experts believe that like influenza, coronavirus infections will continue to spike and wane with each new mutation.

It isn’t surprising that those of us with weakened immune systems and chronic diseases are worried about what the future may hold. According to the National Council on Aging, about 92 percent of seniors have at least one chronic disease and 77 percent have at least two.

Heart disease, stroke, cancer and diabetes are among the most common chronic health conditions causing two-thirds of deaths each year.

Older people are also at higher risk.

About 600,000 of the nearly 800,000 people who have perished from COVID-19 in the United States — 75 percent of deaths — have been 65 or older, according to the New York Times’ data tracking. It is not surprising that adults over 65 have the highest vaccination rates. The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention reported in November that 98.5 percent of adults 65 and older have received at least a first vaccine dose.

In recent months, I have been diagnosed with diseases that put me in the higher-risk category.

In my September column, I wrote about my doctor’s difficulties determining a medical diagnosis for my incessant itching. Finally, I was diagnosed with chronic lymphocytic leukemia, a slow-growing blood cancer.

I am in a “watch and wait” status for CLL, or what patients call “watch and worry.”

I also was diagnosed with cold autoimmune hemolytic anemia, another rare disease caused by autoantibodies attacking red blood cells. One of most prevalent symptoms of cold AIHA is the itch.

In January, I will undergo four weekly infusions of Rituximab, a cell-targeted drug for AIHA and other autoimmune disorders such as rheumatoid arthritis, systemic lupus and multiple sclerosis.

There are approximately 10,000 rare diseases like CLL that have a genetic component that are difficult to diagnosis, disabling and expensive to treat. However, a recent report published in the New England Journal of Medicine on the preliminary success of a U.K. public health initiative on rare diseases found whole-genome sequencing held promise for future diagnosis and treatment.

To protect themselves from COVID-19, many individuals with immune disorders and other chronic diseases have been limiting interaction with others, shopping curbside and ordering restaurant takeout.

Fear and anxiety are a part of the body’s normal “fight-or-flight” response, which helps us avoid or respond to potential danger. But researchers believe this continued anxiety has affected our collective mental health and caused related depression, fatigue and social isolation.

Our greatest protection against severe illness and death is the vaccine.

Mental health experts have emphasized we should continue to live our lives as fully as we can while helping others to do the same. That requires getting vaccinated and taking other precautions to avoid a COVID-19 infection.

We must remain mindful of the threat from those around us who are not vaccinated.

Although so-called breakthrough infections among vaccinated individuals remain low, fully vaccinated people who are exposed to someone with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should be tested three to five days after exposure, according to CDC guidelines.

We know COVID-19 most commonly spreads between people who are in close contact through respiratory droplets, or small particles produced when an infected person coughs, talks or breathes.

We must make our schools, workplaces and other facilities safer by updating the indoor air filtration systems.

The CDC continues to recommend social distancing, wearing face masks indoors and washing hands often.

When soap and water are not available, use a hand sanitizer that contains at least 60 percent alcohol.

Andy Winnegar has spent his career in rehabilitation and is based in Santa Fe as a training associate for the Southwest ADA Center.

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