Amid the spread of the novel coronavirus disease, COVID-19, we’ve been told that older people are the most susceptible, and that young people don’t really need to worry. But a Centers for Disease Control and Prevention report released on Wednesday challenges this narrative, indicating that coronavirus can land young people in the hospital too, per the New York Times.
The CDC report includes 2,449 patients with known age, out of the 4,226 total cases that had been reported as of March 16, according to the Times. Of the 2,449 patients, 49% were 55 and older, while 18% were 45 to 54. Meanwhile, 29% were 20 to 44 years old, and only 5% were 19 and younger.
The oldest patients were the most likely to be hospitalized and die, consistent with what other countries have found, the Times reports. But among the 508 known hospitalizations, 20% were 20 to 44 years old — basically, the millennial generation. (That said, the report didn't specify what "hospitalization" entailed, which means that this might've included patients who stayed in the hospital for, say, a day or so.) Among the 121 known intensive care unit admissions, 12% were within this age group.
“If that many younger people are being hospitalized, that means that there are a lot of young people in the community that are walking around with the infection."
The findings indicate that adults of any age can get COVID-19 and need to take precautions to safeguard themselves from infection, as well as avoid passing the disease on to others, including those who have a condition that heightens their risk of serious illness. “If that many younger people are being hospitalized, that means that there are a lot of young people in the community that are walking around with the infection,” Christopher Carlsten, head of respiratory medicine at the University of British Columbia, told the Times.
The report didn’t include data on whether any of the patients had underlying risk factors, such as a chronic illness, so it’s unclear whether the younger hospitalized patients were more vulnerable to serious COVID-19 illness than their healthy peers, the Times notes. Even if that were the case, though, the finding that they’re occupying hospital and ICU space is important, experts say.
Only 1% of the hospitalizations, and none of the ICU admissions or deaths, included patients younger than 19, according to the report, also in line with what other countries have seen. Among the 44 patients reported to have died, 35 were 65 and older, and nine were between 20 and 64.
The findings come with some caveats, though. For instance, the limited testing available in the US means the study offers only an early, incomplete look at how the pandemic is unfolding here. But overall, it’s a reminder that even though our youth may make us may feel invincible, we can’t rely on it to protect us from COVID-19 — and that keeping ourselves and others healthy during this pandemic depends on internalizing this sobering reality.