Here’s Who’s Dying From Covid-19 in the United States

Data and new research reveal all age groups are at risk, from children to middle age and beyond

A photo of a patient holding a nurse’s gloved hand.

People over 65 are more likely to die from Covid-19, as are people with underlying health issues like diabetes or heart disease. Those are well-documented facts and have led some to believe that only the old and sick need worry. But in fact, the disease has killed people in all age groups, including children who have developed a rare toxic shock syndrome, according to reports in recent days from New York and elsewhere in the United States and other countries.

Separately, a new study of children with Covid-19 admitted to pediatric intensive care units in the United States and Canada concludes that while the overall severity of symptoms in the children was “far less than that documented in adults… Covid-19 can result in a significant disease burden in children.” According to the research, published in JAMA Pediatrics, 40 of the 48 children, ranging in age from four to 16, had underlying medical conditions. Two of them died, and three remain on ventilators.

Meanwhile, more data is revealing how other age groups are affected. People ages 20 to 44 account for 20% of Covid-19 hospitalizations and 12% of ICU admissions, according to Paul G. Auwaerter, MD, at Johns Hopkins Medicine.

Robert Salata, MD, a professor of medicine in epidemiology and international health at Case Western Reserve University, sees Covid-19 patients on a daily basis. He’s clear to point out that the majority of severe cases are indeed among older people and people with underlying health complications. But lately he’s seeing more people under age 40 developing severe breathing problems and blood clots related to Covid-19.

“We are really shocked to see younger age groups have similar complications” as older people, Salata tells me, adding, “We’ve seen it in some younger people who had no risk factors.”

One does not have to die from Covid-19 to be severely affected. In Italy, where the outbreak hit hard before it did in the United States, some people who recovered from Covid-19 have been “unable to shake sickness and fatigue” weeks later. It’s too soon to know whether the disease might leave some people with enduring debilitations.

It may be too soon to draw many firm conclusions from these disparate datasets, but they indicate that around half of all Covid-19 deaths are among people younger than age 80, and more than 20% are among people who’ve yet to reach retirement age.

But I’m healthy!

Underlying health conditions clearly raise the risk of severe outcomes and death from the coronavirus. In an analysis of early data, the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention found that 71% Covid-19 patients requiring hospitalization had at least one underlying health condition or risk factor, as did 78% of those requiring intensive care. If those figures hold up on further analysis, however, that means 29% of Covid-19 hospitalizations involve otherwise relatively healthy individuals.

Either way, underlying conditions don’t pertain to just a few people or only to older people.

“We estimated that 45.4% of U.S. adults are at increased risk for complications from coronavirus disease because of cardiovascular disease, diabetes, respiratory disease, hypertension, or cancer,” according to a new analysis from the CDC. Those at elevated risk include 19.8% of people age 18 to 29 and 80.7% for people over age 80.

Independent health and science journalist, former editor-in-chief of LiveScience, writing about how we age and how to optimize your mind and body through time.

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