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1 in 5 Americans hospitalized with COVID-19 are young adults, CDC study finds

Specimens from COVID-19 tests
REUTERS/Brian Snyder
Specimens from COVID-19 tests are logged to processed for a positive or negative result at the UW Medicine Virology lab in Seattle.

Although older people are at greatest risk of dying from the coronavirus (COVID-19), younger adults make up a significant proportion of coronavirus-related hospitalizations in the United States, according to a report released Wednesday by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC).

CDC researchers looked at the 4,226 COVID-19 cases that were confirmed in the U.S. between Feb. 12 and March 16. Of the 2,449 cases in which the patient’s age was known (some patient data is not yet complete), they found that one in five of the hospitalized patients — and one in eight of those who required intensive care — were between the ages of 20 and 44.

This finding underscores the warning that public health officials have been giving millennials in recent days: Don’t be complacent about your coronavirus risk.

On Wednesday — before the CDC released its new report — Dr. Deborah Birx, a member of the White House’s Coronavirus Task Force, noted that “there are concerning reports coming out of France and Italy about some young people getting seriously ill, and very seriously ill in the ICUs.”

And because millennials have taken fewer precautions than other age groups, they now have “a disproportionate number of infections,” she added.

What the numbers show

Here are the key findings from the CDC report:

  • Younger adults are contracting COVID-19 at about the same rates as those who are older. Of the 2,449 cases analyzed, 29 percent were among people aged 20 to 44 years. By comparison, 25 percent of the cases were among people aged 65 to 84 years and 6 percent among those aged 85 and older.
  • A significant percentage of people hospitalized in the U.S. for COVID-19 have been younger adults. Of the 508 hospitalized patients identified in the study, 20 percent were aged 20 to 44. By comparison, 36 percent were aged 65 to 84 years, and 9 percent were aged 85 and older.
  • Young adults are taking up more ICU beds than the very old. Of the 121 patients in the study admitted to an ICU, 12 percent were between the ages of 20 and 44 compared to 7 percent who were 85 and older. The people most likely to receive ICU care, however, were between the ages of 65 and 84. They made up 46 percent of the cases. The percentages of COVID-19 patients who end up in ICU were lowest, however, among those aged 20 to 44 (2 percent to 4 percent) and highest among those aged 75 to 84 (11 percent to 31 percent).
  • The risk of dying from COVID-19 increases with age. Among the 44 deaths in the study, 15 (34 percent) were among adults aged 85 and older, 20 (46 percent) among those aged 65 to 84, and nine (20 percent) among those aged 20 to 64.

The numbers in the CDC report for children and teenagers are reassuring, however.  Only 5 percent of the COVID-19 cases analyzed occurred in youth aged 19 and under, and less than 1 percent of the hospitalizations were among that age group.

No deaths or ICU admissions occurred among children and teens.

All are susceptible

The study has several limitations. Most notably, much of the data was missing key information, including the age of the patients and the outcomes of their illness (hospitalization, ICU admission and death).

That missing data “likely resulted in an underestimate of these outcomes,” the researchers write.

Coronavirus disease 2019 hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions, and deaths, by age group — United States, February 12– March 16, 2020
Coronavirus disease 2019 hospitalizations, intensive care unit admissions, and deaths, by age group — United States, February 12 – March 16, 2020
Also, the data did not include information about which patients had serious underlying health conditions that might have increased their risk for COVID-19 complications and severe illness.

Despite these limitations, the study’s message is clear: Everyone is susceptible to contracting COVID-19, including serious forms of the disease, and people of all ages should be taking steps to lower their risk.

“Clinicians who care for adults should be aware that COVID-19 can result in severe disease among persons of all ages,” the CDC report states. “Persons with suspected or confirmed COVID-19 should monitor their symptoms and call their provider for guidance if symptoms worsen or seek emergency care for persistent severe symptoms.”

Even if you aren’t worried about the risks to yourself, you need to consider the risk to others.

“We cannot have these large gatherings that continue to occur throughout the country for people who are off work, to then be socializing in large groups and spreading the virus,” warned Birx on Wednesday.

“You have the potential then to spread it to someone who does have a condition that none of us knew about and cause them to have a disastrous outcome,” she added.

FMI: You can read the CDC report on the agency’s website.

Comments (2)

  1. Submitted by Bob Barnes on 03/19/2020 - 10:57 am.

    Odd stats. There is a huge difference between 20 and 44 and I don’t think those ages belong in the same group. Also, without knowing what other conditions they had it’s not all that much help. It’s very likely those from 20 to 44 have/had some other condition that caused them to get such a bad case. As we see with data out of Italy and elsewhere, almost all of the deaths are people who had a condition that made them more susceptible. Things like copd, smoking, cancer, asthma, diabetes etc.

  2. Submitted by Constance Sullivan on 03/19/2020 - 11:21 am.

    Whether of not those infected folks 20-44 have an underlying illness, what is sure is that, if they are being careless about self-protection and quarantining, they are active infection-spreaders in the community. They are not team players.

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