INDIANAPOLIS — Although area hospitals are seeing fewer COVID-19 hospitalizations, health officials say the patients they do see are younger and a cause for concern.
President and CEO of Johnson Memorial Health, David Dunkle, said four of the hospital’s five COVID-19 patients were under the age of 50.
“Typically, it would be an anomaly to see someone the age of 40 here hospitalized,” said Dunkle. “I’ve never seen this many at one time. I mean we had someone in their 20s on a ventilator…that is not what has been the norm for our hospital at all.”
Dunkle said those numbers are much different compared to January’s peak or even late fall.
“And they’re not just getting admitted with mild illness – they’re sick,” said Dunkle.
Meanwhile at Franciscan Health, 20% of those admitted to the hospital recently are between the ages of 25 to 40. Still, the hospital’s manager of infection prevention, Claire Roembke, said hospitalizations are down roughly 80% compared to the height of the pandemic — when more older Hoosiers were in the hospital.
“Early on the focus of vaccinations was, for example, for our older populations because they were being the hardest hit,” said Roembke.
“One of the reasons we started immunizing an age-based strategy – or vaccinating – here in Indiana was because 90% of those hospitalizations were in ages 60 and above,” said Dunkle.
A majority of older Hoosiers are already vaccinated according to the state’s vaccine dashboard. Thus, the virus is now impacting younger Hoosiers who have not yet gotten their shots.
While this shift in hospitalizations is a concern, health officials say they saw it coming.
“You look at the timing and you talk about a more contagious, possibly more virulent strain being more predominant in the United States… coupled with the ending of mask mandates… coupled with the time of year of spring break when people are traveling all over the country… to sit here and say I’m surprised to see an uptick — I can’t say that,” Dunkle said.
According to a spokesperson for IU Health, there has been an ever-so-slight increase in hospitalizations in the under 40 age group — from 16.6% in January to 20% now. Meanwhile, those 60+ have seen a more significant drop in hospitalizations — from 63% in January to 53% in March.
Dr. Robin Ledyard at Community Health said hospitalizations have increased every day for the past week and quadrupled in the past month. The average age of patients being admitted at IU Health for COVID-19 today is 55. Over the holidays, the average age of patient admitted was 65.
“The median age of COVID patients admitted is 45. So, we are seeing younger patients being admitted, which is concerning,” said Dr. Ledyard. “A variety of reasons for this including but not limited to: new variants of COVID that may be more severe, letting our guard down, mask mandate lifted, spring break or COVID fatigue.”
“You have to stay vigilant until you’re vaccinated,” said Dunkle. “If you’re in groups, especially when you don’t know people’s vaccination status, keep wearing your mask.”