While people over 65 are more likely to die from the virus, younger adults are still getting severely sickened

By Julie Mazziotta
March 19, 2020 12:34 PM
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Researchers have been saying that younger adults who contract the new coronavirus will have a milder version of the respiratory illness, and that those over 65 are at a higher risk. While the elderly are still more likely to die from the virus, new research found that younger patients are also getting severely sickened, and account for nearly half of all hospitalizations.

In the first study of U.S. citizens with COVID-19, the Centers for Disease Control analyzed data from 2,449 patients and found that of the 508 patients known to be hospitalized due to the disease, 38 percent were between 20 and 54 years old.

Additionally, nearly half — 48 percent — of patients who had to go to the intensive care unit (121 in total) were between 20 and 64 years old, which belies the belief that severe cases are only found in senior citizens. While severe hospitalizations did skew older, with 36 percent being in those aged 45 to 64, the study found 12 percent occurred in 20- to 44-year-olds.

Of ICU admissions, 46 percent of people were aged 65-84. An additional 7 percent of admissions were people 85 and older.

“I think everyone should be paying attention to this,” said Dr. Stephen S. Morse, a professor of epidemiology at Columbia University’s Mailman School of Public Health, told The New York Times. “It’s not just going to be the elderly. There will be people age 20 and up. They do have to be careful, even if they think that they’re young and healthy.”

Dr. William Haseltine, infectious disease expert and Chair and President of ACCESS Health International, shared a similar warning with PEOPLE on Monday.

“It can kill younger people, if they get a severe lung infection. Younger people should not think they’re immune,” he said.

Of the 2,449 patients studied, 44 are known to have died, and they were primarily older adults. 15 deaths were in people 85 and up, 20 were in adults 65 to 84 and the other 9 were in those aged 20 to 64.

The CDC emphasized that more research is needed, and that they did not have data on if any of the patients had preexisting conditions. Plus, they added, many of these patients are still sick. However, they said that the report emphasizes the need for social distancing.

“Social distancing is recommended for all ages to slow the spread of the virus, protect the health care system, and help protect vulnerable older adults,” the report states. “… Persons of all ages and communities can take actions to help slow the spread of COVID-19 and protect older adults.”

And, they said, “these preliminary data also demonstrate that severe illness leading to hospitalization, including I.C.U. admission and death, can occur in adults of any age with COVID-19.”

As information about the coronavirus pandemic rapidly changes, PEOPLE is committed to providing the most recent data in our coverage. Some of the information in this story may have changed after publication. For the latest on COVID-19, readers are encouraged to use online resources from CDC, WHO, and local public health departments and visit our coronavirus hub.