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COVID-19 hospitalizations have fallen off but effects remain severe

Dr. Danuta Skowronski, B.C. Centre for Disease Control.
Image Credit: Submitted/B.C. Centre for Disease Control
August 10, 2020 - 8:30 AM

There’s one main reason that the number of people hospitalized in B.C. with COVID-19 has dropped from a peak of 149 in early April to a low of five on July 30.

It’s because the disease has been controlled among more vulnerable, older populations and is now spreading outside that demographic.

“I’m seeing a shift in age distribution to include younger people,” Dr. Danuta Skowronski, the medical lead for influenza and emerging respiratory pathogens at the B.C. Centre for Disease Control, told “Severe outcomes in young people are uncommon.”

That’s good news and has allowed the province to resume elective surgeries after emptying hospitals of half their patients in the spring out of fear they would be flooded with COVID-19 patients.

But, just because younger people tend not to have to go to hospital as much, that doesn’t mean they don’t. And for some, getting sick with COVID-19 is no small matter.

“This is not the common cold,” Dr. Skowronski said. “This is not even seasonal influenza. Even in younger people, COVID-19 is much more severe. Even though the individual risk of serious outcomes is lower in younger people than older adults, younger people experiencing COVID-19 still have a higher risk of serious outcomes than had they acquired the influenza virus or the common cold or other seasonal viruses.”

The latest data from the B.C. Centre for Disease Control shows that only two or three people under the age of 30 have been hospitalized and fewer than 10 in the 30-39 age group, out of a total in B.C. for all ages of 550.

Image Credit: Submitted/B.C. Centre for Disease Control

About 10 per cent of young people who contract COVID-19 will get seriously ill, Skowronski said, which is a much higher rate than for colds and flues.

They will start “deteriorating” around day six or seven. Along with fevers, chills and coughs they can have trouble breathing and feel extremely fatigued, along with a number of other unpleasant symptoms.

Most will recover fine at home but, if in doubt, they should call 811 or their family physician.

And, while most will fully recover, that’s not necessarily the case for everyone.

READ MORE: 'Recovered' from COVID-19 doesn't always mean healthy

“You have to remember that we still don’t know all we need to know about this virus,” Dr. Skowronski said. “That includes the long-term complications, potentially not just cardiac but neurological.”

Young people should not be shrugging off the impact of getting sick with COVID-19, she warned.

It’s not just that they risk some pretty miserable days in a sick bed, but it’s the wider consequences of spreading the disease.

“It is playing with fire,” Dr. Skowronski said. “I understand young people may generally consider themselves invincible. Perhaps they’re greater risk takers for that reason.

“But, they’re playing with fire, not only for themselves but also for others, if they don’t take care to try to contribute to the suppression of the spread of this virus in the population. If it gets out from under us – we see from other areas – it’s very difficult to pull it back and people will suffer and die before we can pull it back, once we get exponential spread."

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