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Young people warned they are not safe from COVID-19 

Posted: Monday, November 30, 2020. 1:41 pm CST.

By Aaron Humes: As the United States grapples with the heaviest load of cases and deaths worldwide, medical professionals are working to break the dangerous myth that young people are not in danger from COVID-19, writes the Milwaukee Journal Sentinel via USA Today

Not only can COVID-19 strike those otherwise in terrific shape and with no prior illnesses, young people who have the disease can unknowingly spread COVID-19 to much more vulnerable persons such as the elderly and those with severe, chronic illnesses. 

Daniel S. Talmor, chairman of anesthesia, critical care and pain medicine at Beth Israel Deaconess Medical Center in Boston, advises doubters to visit his intensive care unit (ICU) and see those younger people infected with the virus, adding: “I think people are willing themselves to believe that they are not at risk because they are young and healthy, but that’s a very dangerous and mistaken belief.” 

Ironically, dismissing the pandemic as overhyped and limited undermines the public health message that “we’re all in this together.” It reinforces poor behavior and provides new opportunities for the virus to spread among Americans weary of a restricted lifestyle. 

Whether college parties at Notre Dame, University of New Hampshire and the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill, or the 10-day motorcycle rally in Sturgis, South Dakota, which has been linked to COVID-19 outbreaks in South Dakota and Minnesota, and cases across a dozen states or gathering for the holidays, professionals fear much of their hard work to obtain a vaccine can be undone. 

The death toll of Americans under the age of 40 from COVID-19 – 3,571 – has now surpassed the total death toll from the 9/11 terrorist attacks. 

The idea that COVID-19 was mostly a disease of the elderly took hold early in the pandemic when testing capacity was limited and directed largely toward residents of nursing homes and people who showed symptoms. By the summer, the U.S. had broadened its testing for the new coronavirus, and according to Frank Esper, a pediatric infectious disease expert at Cleveland Clinic Children’s hospital, younger and younger people were found being infected – the median age for hospitalized COVID-19 patients across the nation is now hovering around 40. 

At present, the highest number of COVID-19 cases is in the 18- to 29-year-old age group. 

Professionals said health care workers are “exasperated” by the way many Americans have let down their guard on mask-wearing and social distancing, failing to take the pandemic seriously. It is pointed out that remdesivir, plasma, steroids and placing patients in a prone position to increase their oxygen intake have all helped save the lives of COVID-19 patients. But there remain many cases when none of these treatments work. 

Another fact often downplayed is just how many Americans suffer from conditions that put them at higher risk for severe disease from COVID-19. While some adults no doubt suffer from more than one risk factor, the total number with at least one is likely to be 100 million or more. 

Obesity alone – listed in multiple recent studies as a risk factor for severe COVID-19 — afflicts an estimated 85 million adult Americans. 

Other risk factors listed by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention include: chronic kidney disease (37 million Americans); smoking (34 million Americans); Type 2 diabetes mellitus (30 million Americans) and chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (16.4 million Americans). 

That doesn’t include the number of people with weakened immune systems from cancer treatments or organ transplants. 

Lew Kaplan, president of the Society of Critical Care Medicine, a nonprofit medical organization, stressed that in order to bring the pandemic under control Americans must practice mask-wearing and social distancing and embrace the idea that “we are in this together.” 

“It is absolutely essential,” he said. “Buy-in makes it all work. Lack of buy-in puts everybody at jeopardy.”   


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