March 24, 2020

Millennials make up a sizeable share of COVID-19 patients in the United States, and the prevalence of chronic health conditions among this generation makes them more susceptible to the new coronavirus than some might think.

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COVID-19 is surprisingly common among younger adults

A CDC report released Wednesday found that, out of 2,449 U.S. COVID-19 patients, 29% were ages 20 to 44. In fact, that age group made up the largest share of patients of any age group.

In addition, of the 508 patients who were hospitalized, CDC said 20% were ages 20 to 44, compared to 26% who were ages 65 to 84. Another 9% were ages 85 or older.

"[This] preliminary data … demonstrate[s] that severe illness leading to hospitalization, including ICU admission and death, can occur in adults of any age with COVID-19," the researchers wrote in the report.

Millennials share their experience with COVID-19: 'It's the real deal. You're really sick'

Fiona Lowenstein, who's 26 years old and has no existing health conditions, ended up hospitalized with COVID-19 earlier this month and wrote about her experience in a New York Times opinion piece.

When Lowenstein first got sick in mid-March, she wanted to stay out of the hospital and reserve resources for others. However, a few days into her illness, she "woke up in the middle of the night with chills, vomiting, and shortness of breath," she writes. "I could barely speak more than a few words without feeling like I was gasping for air." Eventually, her partner called the hospital, and a doctor urged Lowenstein to seek medical care.

When Lowenstein was admitted to the hospital, "doctors and nurses were not at all surprised" by her condition, she writes. "After I was admitted, I was told that there was a 30-year-old in the next room who was also otherwise healthy, but who had also experienced serious trouble breathing. The hospital staff told me that more and more patients my age were showing up at the [ED]."

Christian Heuer, 32, another young COVID-19 patient, said, "I kept hearing, '80% of cases are mild.'" He added, "But this is not just a sniffly runny nose. It's the real deal. You're really sick."

Many millennials face higher rates of chronic conditions

While the numbers show that the risk of death from COVID-19 is still significantly greater in older adults, younger adults in their 20s and 30s, as a whole, are more susceptible to the virus than they might think, in part because of the prevalence of chronic conditions among this population, the New York Times reports.

Levels of obesity, Type 2 diabetes, high blood pressure, and heart disease have increased among people in their 20s and 30s over the last few years—and all of these conditions are considered risk factors for poor outcomes from COVID-19, the Times reports. In addition, according to a report from the Blue Cross and Blue Shield Health Association, six of the 10 conditions that have the greatest negative effects on young adults are behavioral health conditions, such as substance misuse and mental health problems.

Millennials are also more likely to feel lonely, and social distancing policies may add to that sense of loneliness, the New York Times reports. Benjamin Miller, a psychologist who is the chief strategy officer for Well Being Trust, said, "Many of our millennials already feel socially disconnected, and this exacerbates those ongoing feelings these folks already had."

In addition, millennials are more likely to work gig economy jobs and decline health benefits, Lowenstein notes.

In her opinion piece, Lowenstein writes, "There are many reasons to take COVID-19 seriously if you are a millennial." She concludes, "Our invulnerability to this disease is a myth—one I have experienced firsthand" (Rabin, New York Times, 3/20; Lowenstein, New York Times, 3/23).

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