April 27, 2021 -- While coronavirus numbers are down across most of the United States, the virus is surging across Michigan. And with the surge, hospitals are reporting an alarming demographic shift: More people being hospitalized with COVID-19 are under 65.
“I am putting more patients in their 20s and 30s and 40s on oxygen and on life support than at any other time in this pandemic,” said Erin Brennan, MD, an emergency room physician in Detroit told the Detroit Free Press.
"What we're seeing is a definite shift of toward the younger patients," said David Vandenberg, MD, vice president and chief medical officer of St. Joseph Mercy Ann Arbor. "No question about that. I would say that our average age ... is about 58 in this surge."
The New York Times reported that more than 2,300 people with COVID are hospitalized across the state -- twice the number since the beginning of March. The Times, citing the Michigan Health & Hospital Association, said state hospitals are admitting about twice as many coronavirus patients in their 30s and 40s as during the fall peak.
The trend may be explained by the way older people were prioritized for vaccinations.
About 65% of residents ages 65 and older are fully vaccinated, according to the Michigan COVID-19 Dashboard. In comparison, about 40% of Michiganders ages 50-64, 24% of those ages 40-49, and 21% of those ages 30-39 have been vaccinated.
Overall, about 35% of the state is fully vaccinated. Doctors say many of the under-65 patients have not been vaccinated.
Health officials also say the increase in hospitalizations by people under 65 is caused by the spread of the B.1.1.7 variant originally identified in Britain. That variant is more contagious and more severe than the more common form of coronavirus.
The younger patients often require longer and more intensive treatment than they or their families expected. Many of them require technology to help them breathe, such as ventilators.
"I tell patients and families, be prepared for the long haul,” Eugene Liu, MD, of St. Joseph Mercy Hospital, told the Free Press. "We try ... to take off the mask, you know, and let them eat. But we're finding many of them, they can only take off the mask for literally 30 seconds, a minute, and their oxygen saturation tanks. So that's the struggle."
Overall, the state has reported almost 912,000 cases and more than 18,400 deaths.