RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — People between the ages of 18 and 49 are accounting for a growing share of COVID-19-related hospitalizations across North Carolina, a CBS17.com data analysis found.
The trend partly reflects the simple math of a decrease in the number of older — and more vaccinated — North Carolinians who are winding up in hospitals, but also may indicate younger and middle-aged adults letting down their guard prematurely.
“Younger people — and we’ve seen this happen before — are really the leading edge of our pandemic in this country,” said Dr. David Wohl, an infectious disease specialist at the University of North Carolina School of Medicine. “Those are the people getting infected.”
The state’s hospital numbers have leveled off during the past several weeks, falling below 1,000 COVID-19 patients in hospitals three weeks ago and largely lingering between 900 and 990 ever since.
The newest available hospitalization demographic data from the state Department of Health and Human Services is from last Friday.
Nearly a third of all confirmed COVID-19 admissions during the most recent week of figures were in the 18-to-49-year-old group.
The 14 days when 18-to-49s made up the highest share of admissions have all come since March 16.
“I really think we need to be paying attention to who is landing in the hospital and who’s landing in the ICU, and work to understand how those people end up there and what we could be doing to mitigate that moving forward,” said Dr. Pia MacDonald, an epidemiologist at RTI International.
People older than 65 were prioritized for vaccination when the massive undertaking began in mid-December, with younger populations ineligible until later in the process. Starting Wednesday, everyone 16 and older will be able to get their shots.
“The cases we are seeing, not surprisingly, are going to be in folks who tend to be less vaccinated,” DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said.
But the raw numbers in that age group are increasing, too.
For the most recent seven-day period, an average of 38 people under 50 were admitted to hospitals with COVID-19. That figure was 32.5 a week earlier, and 28.5 the week before that.
“Reasonably, no one should be getting infected anymore, right?” Wohl said. “Like, we know how to protect ourselves. So nobody should get infected. So when you look at who’s getting infected, it’s younger people.
“And older people either are smarter enough to protect themselves, or they’re immune because they’ve been infected already, or more likely, they’ve been vaccinated,” he added.
The solution is simple: There’s still a lot of work to be done to bring the pandemic to its end, and it’s everyone’s responsibility to do that work. That means adhering to the mitigation strategies — washing hands, wearing masks — and getting the vaccine.
“We’d like there not to be a pandemic and to go back to normal, and we can’t really do that right now,” Wohl said. “I know it’s not always easy getting through to the phone line or going online or going to a Walgreens, but do it, get vaccinated, cut through the nonsense and any sort of this myths and stuff that’s going on that prevents people from getting vaccine. Get vaccinated because they’ll protect you. And meanwhile, really protect yourself from getting infected and infecting other people.
“We know how to do that,” he added. “It’s working. The numbers have gone down. Let’s keep up.”