NC’s hospital admissions trending younger during latest 2-week rise in COVID patient count


RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — With the number of hospitalized COVID-19 patients across the state reaching its highest level in months, the proportions of those in hospitals are skewing younger, a data analysis found.

The findings appear to further illustrate the connection between high vaccination rates and low hospitalization rates — and vice versa — among the nine age groups tracked by state Department of Health and Human Services data.

“The people who are becoming hospitalized are tending to be increasingly younger,” said Dr. Sudha Raman, an epidemiologist and assistant professor at Duke University’s department of population health sciences.

The state reported 1,031 hospitalized patients Monday — the first time it has exceeded 1,000 since May 8 — and the day-over-day increase of 77 patients marks the biggest one-day jump since Jan. 14.

The analysis looked at the subset of 710 patients who have been hospitalized with COVID-19 between July 10 — when the 17-day string of daily increases began — and July 19, the most recent demographic information. It compared those trends to the overall picture of more than 52,000 patients hospitalized since October.

Every 10-year age group younger than 60 makes up a larger share of the hospital admissions during the July surge than they have during the past 10 months.

For example, people in their 30s make up 6 percent of the total COVID admissions — but 12 percent of the ones that have come since July 10. The same trend emerging among those between the ages of 0-17, 18-19 and in their 20s, 40s and 50s.

Conversely, those numbers are lower now than they have been for the three age groups that include those older than 60. 

The bell curve for the most recent surge in hospitalized patients peaks among those in their 50s, compared to the overall distribution that shows a peak among those in their 70s.

Each of those three groups does continue to make up a substantial share, but those numbers have come down considerably.

“What we’ve seen in terms of demographics is, one, much younger people, and two, unvaccinated individuals,” said Dr. David Weber, an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine.

It can be tricky to compare the numbers from such a small sample size because the window of certainty is wider, Raman said.

“There’s a little bit more variation, but the general trend, I’d say, would be what you concluded,” Raman said.

When it comes to vaccines, the magic number might be 65.

“The biggest uptake of vaccine have been people over 65, plus many people over 65 of course have already had the disease,” Weber said.

The state says 84 percent of people 65 and older have been fully vaccinated, but just 40 percent of those younger than 65 have full protection.

“That leaves the COVID-19 virus more likely to kind of make its way into the younger population,” Raman said.

Among those even younger, Raman says Duke University Hospital currently has no hospitalized school-age children with severe COVID-19. DHHS data shows only 2 percent — a total of 15 children — across the state have been admitted to hospitals with COVID since July 10.

But with the new academic year starting in the coming weeks, Raman is keeping an eye on admissions among that age group.

“Every week, every two weeks, we’re going to have potentially more, and when we get kids back to school, depending on the various mask mandates and the decisions that schools make … that’s something that we should keep our eye on, for the spread of the variant in and around the communities,” Raman said.

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