Coronavirus: 20 pct of US hospitalized are millennials, supply shortage concerns loom

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Twenty percent of those hospitalized in the United States for coronavirus were aged 20-44, a new report from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) found.

The novel coronavirus, officially known as COVID-19, is known to more adversely affect the elderly and those with pre-existing conditions, making the high hospitalization rate for the age bracket, coupled with the US healthcare system’s lack of preparedness, alarming.

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In the same age group, 12 percent were admitted to an intensive-care unit out of 121 patients known to have been admitted to an ICU. Nearly half admitted to ICU were adults under the age of 65, the CDC reported. Less than 1 percent of hospitalizations were accounted for by those under 19 years old.

Those over 60 are still the most at-risk group for experiencing serious symptoms or death, and more frequently require medical assistance. In China, the virus’s epicenter, 80 percent of those who died were over 60 years old.

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Of the 44 deaths recorded in the CDC report, nine were among the 20-64 age range, 20 from the 65-85 age range, and 15 from the above 85 year olds. For those aged 65 and up, the death rate in the US is also 80 percent.

Ages were reported for 2,449 patients the CDC examined. 6 percent were 85 and older, 25 percent were between 64 and 84, and 29 percent were in the 20-44 age group.

Where young people are not known to be the most at-risk population, the hospitalization rate of infected millennials in the US is alarming as they occupy beds, and the number of needed beds may well increase as coronavirus continues to spread across the country.

Hospital capacity

After watching the virus take its toll in Italy, where hospitals, morgues, and cemeteries are overwhelmed with coronavirus victims, hospital capacity is a major concern in the US where the virus has not yet reached its peak – or when it will infect the most people.

A Johns Hopkins report said there are around 46,500 ICU bed in US hospitals and “perhaps an equal number of other ICU beds that could be used in a crisis,” making the total amount potentially available around 93,000.

The report found that in a “moderate” coronavirus pandemic, 200,000 could need ICU care; in a “very severe scenario,” like the influenza pandemic in 1918, 2.9 million could need ICU care.

“Even spread out over several months, the mismatch between demand and resources is clear,” the report read.

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Ventilators, needed to keep people with severe pneumonia and respiratory failure alive, number 62,188 in US hospitals, according to figures from 2010. In Washington state, where coronavirus has hit hardest in America, there were 12.8 ventilators per capita, the second-lowest per-capita supply, reported US Today.

A separate Johns Hopkins report on ventilator stockpiling from February said there were around 62,000 full-featured mechanical ventilators and there are an additional 98,000 ventilators that can provide basic care in a crisis.

“The need for ventilation services during a severe pandemic could quickly overwhelm these day-to-day operational capabilities. During a severe influenza pandemic, it has been projected that the demand for assisted ventilation in hospitals could increase by 25 percent or more,” the study read.

The American Hospital Association estimates that around 960,000 Americans could need medical help breathing during the coronavirus pandemic.

Social distancing

“The risk for serious disease and death in COVID-19 cases among persons in the United States increases with age. 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 CDC report reads.

In the US, and around the world, social distancing has been recommended to help “flatten the curve.”

Social distancing gives undersupplied and unprepared healthcare systems the time to potentially prepare for a worse outbreak as well as helps ensure they are not overwhelmed within a matter of weeks.

“In areas that have a significantly higher number of cases, social distancing is vital to slow and even prevent the spread of COVID-19 and reduce the strain on healthcare systems… we have seen from the Italian example, health systems have difficulty coping with sudden, large spikes in numbers of patients requiring ventilation and other forms of intensive care,” Dr. Mohamad Mooty, Department Chair, Infectious Diseases, Medical Subspecialty Institute, Cleveland Clinic Abu Dhabi told Al Arabiya English.

Last week, US President Donald Trump declared a state of emergency, but critics have said the administration’s belated response to the outbreak has contributed to the virus’s continued spread in the US. On Thursday, California's governor issued a "stay at home" order.

Where other countries have instituted full-scale lockdowns, such as Lebanon, Italy, and France, in the US college students on spring break, predominantly aged 18-22, were seen on crowded beaches in Texas and Florida, prompting concern about the virus spreading within those microcosms that could translate into further spread.

“[This is] giving the disease more opportunities to spread,” said Blackburn who is the Deputy Director, Pandemic & Biosecurity Policy Program at Scowcroft Institute of International Affairs at Texas A&M University. “You might have one sick person, and on average one person infects 2-3. So if you have 100 people come together, and even half of them, or a quarter of them, get infected. Everyone they contact then, and especially the elderly are at risk.”