It’s true that risk of death climbs precipitously with age.
By Michelle Cortez, Angelica LaVito and Robert Langreth
New evidence from Europe and the U.S. suggests that younger adults aren’t as impervious to the novel coronavirus that’s circulating worldwide as originally thought.
Despite initial data from China that showed elderly people and those with other health conditions were most vulnerable, young people — from twenty-somethings to those in their early forties — are falling seriously ill. Many require intensive care, according to reports from Italy and France. The risk is particularly dire for those with ailments that haven’t yet been diagnosed.
“It may have been that the millennial generation, our largest generation, our future generation that will carry us through for the next multiple decades, here may be a disproportional number of infections among that group,” Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, said in a press conference on Wednesday, citing the reports.
The data bears out that concern. In Italy, the hardest hit country in Europe, almost a quarter of the nearly 28,000 coronavirus patients are between the ages of 19 and 50, according to data website Statista.
Similar trends have been seen in the U.S. Among nearly 2,500 of the first coronavirus cases in the U.S., 705 were aged 20 to 44, according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. Between 15% and 20% eventually ended up in the hospital, including as many as 4% who needed intensive care. Few died.
One of those younger adults is Clement Chow, an assistant professor of genetics at the University of Utah. “I’m young and not high risk, yet I am in the ICU with a very severe case,” Chow said in a March 15 tweet. “We really don’t know much about this virus.”
According to his Twitter posts, Chow had a low-grade fever for a few days and then a bad cough that led to respiratory failure. It turned out to be the coronavirus. He ended up on high flow oxygen in the ICU. When he arrived last Thursday, he was the first patient there. “Now there are many more,” he tweeted.
I was the first COVID19 patient in the ICU on Thursday. Now there are many more.
— Clement “beating COVID19” Chow (@ClementYChow) 1584305075000
My breathing was so compromised that I couldn’t keep my O2 levels up even wi 10L of oxygen
— Clement “beating COVID19” Chow (@ClementYChow) 1584304916000
Chow didn’t give his age in the tweets, but his laboratory website indicates he graduated from college in 2003 and has two unruly children. He didn’t respond to an email and Bloomberg was unable to independently confirm his status as a patient.
It’s true that risk of death climbs precipitously with age. While there were only 144 patients over age 85, as many as 70% were hospitalized and 29% needed intensive care, according to the CDC report. One in four died, the agency said in the Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report.
Yet emerging evidence suggests that infants and toddlers may also be at risk of severe complications. In a study of more than 2,000 young children with Covid-19 from China, published this week in Pediatrics, Chinese doctors found that about 11% of cases in infants were judged to be severe or critical, as were 7% of those in toddlers and preschoolers. While still a lower rate of severe disease than adults, it’s hardly insignificant.
In the White House press conference Wednesday, President Donald Trump implored younger people to stop reckless behavior, such as partying, going to the beach and hanging out at bars. Yet, as college campuses across the country close down and require students to leave, even the most conscientious young adults face a difficult choice. Finding their academic years abbreviated and graduation plans shattered, many are driving or flying home, where they risk exposing their parents and grandparents to Covid-19.
The same concerns apply to young people starting out in big cities who suddenly find themselves under pressure to head back to their hometowns. Livia Calari’s father has been begging her to come home for weeks. The 25-year-old and her boyfriend live in Brooklyn, New York, and have been nervously watching the warnings from officials intensify and the city they live in shut down. But they’re staying put, for now at least.
The couple has two cats they’d have to move. If they did hunker down with Calari’s father in Washington, D.C., they would be asked to self-quarantine on a separate floor for two weeks. Plus, the thought of accidentally bringing the virus worries them.
“I have a lot of anxiety, maybe irrationally, about bringing it to him,” Calari said of her father, who’s 65. “I would feel awful.”
After days of thinking over their options, they decided to stay in New York and re-evaluate if a lockdown gets to the point where they can’t even leave their apartment to take walks.