COVID-19 has been wreaking havoc on American life for a couple of weeks now, with its most extreme impacts being felt in the past few days. With cases now present in all 50 states, we're seeing mass closures in an effort to curb the spread of the virus. These include schools, public spaces, restaurants, nationwide chains, local businesses, and now, Social Security offices.

Effective Tuesday, March 17, local Social Security offices are closed to the public, which means seniors who typically rely on those offices will need to find a new way to get the information they need. And while Social Security Administration (SSA) representatives will still be available by phone, callers could face long wait times in the coming days and weeks.

Social Security card

IMAGE SOURCE: GETTY IMAGES.

Why the closures?

The CDC has stated repeatedly that those most at risk of severe illness from COVID-19 include the elderly -- namely, those over 60. And that's the exact population likely to visit a Social Security office. By closing those doors, the SSA is hoping to protect our most vulnerable citizens.

Thankfully, seniors in need of assistance can still call (800) 772-1213 with pressing questions -- but the SSA warns that critical issues, like missing benefit payments, will take priority over less urgent matters. In other words, if you have questions about when to file for benefits or how to sign up, you may need to wait until things calm down to speak to a live person. On the other hand, that information is perpetually available on the SSA's website, and if you want to apply for benefits, all you need to do is create an account and sign up. Similarly, you can check on the status of your benefits application online, or even use the SSA's website to request a new Social Security card.

That said, the agency warns that some services, like getting a replacement card, could be delayed until local offices are allowed to reopen. And right now, there's no timeline for that, similar to how there's no timeline to reopen schools and other establishments that have closed because of COVID-19.

Be on the lookout for scams

Seniors have a tendency to fall victim to financial scams, and the same holds true in our current climate. If someone claiming to be an SSA representative calls you out of the blue with so-called information about how COVID-19 may be impacting your benefits, hang up and make sure not to give out any personal information, like your Social Security number. The SSA will never call you out of nowhere, so be mindful of the fact that as COVID-19 fears sweep the nation and prey on the minds of seniors in particular, criminals won't hesitate to capitalize on that vulnerability.

At the same time, rest assured that if you're already receiving Social Security benefits, you'll continue getting that money. Office closures should not impact your payments, so that's one less thing to worry about.