Dear Young People: Coronavirus Can Make You Very Sick

You are our future…please be careful

It is true that the bulk of the mortality from coronavirus has been those who are older adults and those with underlying chronic medical conditions. Unfortunately, that has led to a sense of complacency among some who are younger, a sense that they cannot get sick from this disease.

This is absolutely not true.

The CDC has published data on cases of COVID-19 in the U.S. There have been plenty of young people that have gotten sick…very sick:

Among 2,449 patients with known age, 6% were aged ≥85, 25% were aged 65-84 years, 18% each were aged 55-64 years and 45-54 years, and 29% were aged 20-44 years. Only 5% of cases occurred in persons aged 0-19 years.

Among 508 (12%) patients known to have been hospitalized, 9% were aged ≥85 years, 26% were aged 65-84 years, 17% were aged 55-64 years, 18% were 45-54 years, and 20% were aged 20-44 years. Less than 1% of hospitalizations were among persons aged ≤19 years. The percentage of persons hospitalized increased with age, from 2% – 3% among persons aged ≤9 years, to ≥31% among adults aged ≥85 years.

Among 121 patients known to have been admitted to an ICU, 7% of cases were reported among adults ≥85 years, 46% among adults aged 65-84 years, 36% among adults aged 45-64 years, and 12% among adults aged 20-44 years.

While they are a minority, that is still a good number of young people that have become critically ill. And it is exactly what I’ve been hearing anecdotally from colleagues taking care of COVID-19 patients all across the country. Being young doesn’t guarantee that you will not get sick. And you can die from coronavirus at a young age. It has already happened.

Even if you don’t die, getting critically ill with lung disease and ARDS is very serious. It can leave your lungs permanently scarred and injured. It is possible that you can have permanently decreased lung function. There are other possible complications of critical illness. This disease is no joke, and all of us — no matter our age — need to take it very seriously.

So what to do about this?

Be careful. Practice social distancing. Avoid gathering together with other people. Wash your hands. Practice proper cough/sneeze etiquette. Clean often the surfaces with which you come into contact. Even if you are feeling well — and this is true of everyone else — you may be transmitting the virus to other people and not even know it.

I’m grateful that it seems that coronavirus spares the young. At the same time, as a father, I’m terrified that my kids will get this disease. My fear extends to everyone else’s kids. Coronavirus can make young people sick. You are our future. Please, please, please be careful.

NY Times featured Pulmonary and Critical Care Specialist | Physician Leader | Author and Blogger | His latest book is “Code Blue,” a medical thriller.

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