Is the new COVID-19 variant putting more young adults in the hospital?

covid hospital numbers young adults
Photo via Hospital Clinic/Flickr (CC BY-ND 2.0)

CDC Director Dr. Rochelle Walensky is warning that hospitals are seeing a growing number of young adults in their 30s and 40s admitted with severe cases of COVID-19. 

“Data suggests this is all happening as we are seeing increasing prevalence of variants, with 52 jurisdictions now reporting cases of variants of concern,” Walensky said at an April 7 press briefing on the pandemic, via CNBC.

According to the CDC, a “variant of concern” is “a variant for which there is evidence of an increase in transmissibility, more severe disease (increased hospitalizations or deaths), significant reduction in neutralization by antibodies generated during previous infection or vaccination, reduced effectiveness of treatments or vaccines, or diagnostic detection failures.” 

The New York Times reported that federal health officials are tracking reports of increasing COVID cases associated with daycare centers and youth sports, and hospitals are seeing more young adults who are admitted with “severe disease,” Walensky said.

While the article noted it is difficult for scientists to say exactly how much of the current patterns of infection are because of the growing frequency of B.1.1.7, it did assert that the variant first found in the U.K. is now the dominant strain of COVID-19 in the U.S., with 58.9% of all new tests from one lab company showing B.1.1.7. 

That strain of the virus is about 60% more contagious and 67% more deadly than the original form of the coronavirus, according to the most recent estimates.

The CDC notes that the B.1.1.7 variant has been found to be most prevalent in Michigan, Florida, Colorado, California, Minnesota, and Massachusetts; the New York Times article observed that the rise in B.1.1.7 cases has been “somewhat camouflaged by falling infection rates overall, leading some political leaders to relax restrictions on indoor dining, social distancing, and other measures.”

“It is premature to declare a victory,” Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Allergy and Infectious Diseases and chief medical adviser to President Joe Biden, told an audience at the National Press Club on April 6. “We’re seeing more and more young people get into serious trouble, namely severe disease, requiring hospitalization and occasionally even tragic deaths in quite young people.”

NBC News connected that to data from a recent Gallup Poll showing just 35% of Americans responding to a survey done March 15-21 who said they were worried about contracting the coronavirus, representing a 14-point drop from February and well below the 59% record set in April 2020 when the pandemic was new. 

That article noted people over 65, the group most likely to be vaccinated, had the biggest drop in fear over contracting the coronavirus, but there were also significant drops in the percentages of people worried about catching the virus among those 18-64.

As Walensky observed, “These trends are pointing to two clear truths. One, the virus still has hold on us, infecting people and putting them in harm’s way, and we need to remain vigilant. And two, we need to continue to accelerate our vaccination efforts and to take the individual responsibility to get vaccinated when we can.”

Read more about coronavirus variants:

Sources: CNBC, CDC, New York Times, NBC News

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