As the number of COVID-19 cases across the country continues to skyrocket, some older Americans may need to consider what this means for their retirement plans.

Approximately 4 million workers age 55 to 70 are expected to be forced into early retirement due to the COVID-19 pandemic, according to a report from the Retirement Equity Lab at The New School. This could be particularly concerning to older workers if the U.S. faces another shutdown, which could lead to another round of mass layoffs.

While the future may be uncertain, there are a few things you can do to prepare just in case you do end up retiring earlier than you'd expected.

Senior man and woman sitting in the house looking worried

Image source: Getty Images.

1. Continue investing

To say that the stock market has been volatile this year would be the understatement of the century, but that doesn't mean you shouldn't keep investing.

Right now is a crucial time to continue saving for retirement, because you may not know how much time you have left before you retire. If you put off saving and then lose your job, you might regret not investing when you had the chance.

That said, it's important to invest wisely. As you get older, it's a good idea to adjust your asset allocation so that your portfolio leans more conservatively. Allocating the vast majority of your portfolio toward stocks can be incredibly risky when you're close to retirement, especially when the market is volatile. Instead, allocating more of your savings toward bonds and other "safer" investments can protect your money as much as possible.

2. Build an emergency fund

An emergency fund is critical at any stage in life, but it's especially important if you might be retiring soon. Having at least three to six months' worth of savings can help you avoid withdrawing more than you should from your retirement fund, which will ensure your savings last longer.

In addition, it's wise to avoid withdrawing your retirement savings during a market downturn, because that means you're selling your investments when stock prices are lower. If the market does take a turn for the worse after you retire, tapping your emergency savings can give your retirement investments more time to recover.

3. Think about picking up a side hustle

If you can swing it, picking up a side gig can boost your income in retirement. The good news is that with so many companies taking advantage of remote work during the pandemic, it may be easier to find a job you can perform from home.

Even if you're not retired yet but simply want some extra cash to pad your savings, picking up a side hustle can be a wise move. Finding another source of income is never a bad idea, but it's especially smart if you're worried about potentially losing your job.

4. Consider claiming Social Security benefits

You're eligible to begin claiming Social Security benefits once you turn 62 years old. While there are advantages to delaying benefits, sometimes claiming as early as possible can be a smart move as well.

If you lose your job unexpectedly in your early 60s and your savings aren't as robust as you'd hoped they would be, Social Security benefits can help bridge the gap between what you have saved and what you need to pay the bills. Keep in mind that your monthly payments will be smaller the earlier you begin claiming, but if you retire early and it's tough to make ends meet, claiming early might be a smart move.

Nobody knows what the future holds or how long this pandemic will last. While there's a chance you may not have much of a choice in when you retire, you can take control of the situation by preparing the best you can.