Most people know that COVID-19 is most threatening to people 60 years old and older.
But how serious can it get for these older people?
In the four-county area, the odds of being hospitalized if you contract the virus are about 1-in-8 for people in their 60s, and as high as 1-in-3 for people older than 70.
Death rates are also higher the older you get, with people 80 years old and older at the highest risk.
Analyzing case and death data from the Indiana State Department of Health and hospitalization data from the Regenstrief Institute reinforces the notion that older people are most at risk of serious complications or death, even as cases spread widely among younger populations.
The low risk of major health impacts to the young doesn’t mean those people should carry on as if nothing is amiss, however, as state health officials have repeatedly emphasized that unchecked spread of the virus in the community and in younger populations does eventually work back to more vulnerable populations.
That’s been proven recently as case counts have skyrocketed over the last six weeks and Indiana has seen renewed outbreaks in nursing homes, record high hospitalizations and significantly more deaths.
“In February and March the world didn’t know a whole lot about how COVID-19 was transmitted,” Gov. Eric Holcomb said on Wednesday. “We’re in a different time now. We all know now. And we know what we can do to protect ourselves and one another.”
The state has been ringing alarm bells about the rapidly rising number of intensive care unit hospitalizations in the state, which have gone from less than 1,000 total COVID-19 ICU patients on Oct. 1 to more than 2,500 as of this week. In northeast Indiana, total COVID-19 patients have tripled, from 94 on Oct. 1 to 306 as of Nov. 10.
But who’s most at risk of ending up in a hospital bed?
In DeKalb, LaGrange, Noble and Steuben counties, there have been zero hospitalizations among COVID-19 patients younger than 40. Of 2,108 total patients in the 0-39 age range, none have ended up in a hospital and none have died.
Hospitalizations have also been fairly rare for people in their 40s, with just 10 total across 754 historical cases. There have been five hospitalizations in DeKalb County and five in Steuben County in that age range, representing hospitalization rates of 2.5% and 3.6%, respectively. LaGrange or Noble counties had no hospitalizations so far among people in their 40s.
Numbers, however, begin to tick up for patients in their 50s and older.
At 50-59, 56 people have been hospitalized all-time out of 794 cases. That’s a hospitalization rate of 7%, meaning that about 1 in every 14 patients diagnosed with the virus may end up in a hospital.
Noble County is the only one of the four counties to have deaths of patients in their 50s, with three. That’s 1.1% of Noble County’s total patients in their 50s, so the odds of death remain low even if the possibility of hospitalization is higher.
For residents in their 60s, the chances of ending up in a hospital are much more stark.
Overall there have been 99 hospitalizations among 739 cases, a rate of 13.4%, about 1-in-7.5. Rates by counties ranged from 11.5% hospitalizations in Noble County to 16.6% among patients in Steuben County.
Every county has also had at least two deaths among people in their 60s — two in DeKalb, three in LaGrange and four each in Noble and Steuben counties — for an aggregate death rate of about 1.8%.
Hospitalization rates are actually the highest among patients in their 70s in the four-county area.
There have been 151 admissions of patients in their 70s out of 488 patients, an aggregate rate of 30.9%, nearly 1-in-3. Of COVID-19-positive patients in the four counties, 27.1% from Noble, 28.1% from DeKalb, 33.8% from Steuben and 35.7% from LaGrange counties have been admitted to hospitals.
Deaths are also higher in this age group, with 26 deaths, a death rate of 5.3%, meaning that one out of every 20 patients in their 70s who contracts the virus is likely to die.
Hospitalization numbers are slightly lower at the 80-plus age group, but death rates are much higher.
Eighty-three patients out of 329 total patients at 80-plus were admitted, a 25.2% rate.
As would be expected from people who have reached or exceeded the typical life expectancy in the U.S., death rates are by far the highest in this age group. The four counties have lost 45 COVID-19 patients 80 years old or older, a death rate of 13.7% aggregate.
It’s been higher in Noble County, 17.8%, which has had multiple nursing home outbreaks that have accounted for about half of the county’s total deaths, and 17.2% in Steuben County. LaGrange County’s older residents fared the best, with an 7.1% death rate at that age and 12.5% in DeKalb County.
Statewide, COVID-19 patients stay an average of about two weeks once admitted, although length of stay for patients from the four-county area appear to be shorter, according to Regenstrief Institute data.
Non-ICU patients from the four counties have stays ranging from about six to eight days.
The disparity for ICU patients ranges has much more deviation, from a two-day average for patients from DeKalb County to 12 days average from Noble County patients, with Steuben and LaGrange at five and six days, respectively. Length of stay in the ICU is more volatile as some stays can be very short if a patient dies shortly after being admitted but can also be much longer if a person lingers in poor condition before either recovering or dying.
Part of the state’s challenge in maintaining hospital capacity is due to the length of stay for patients, that it takes more time to “turn” beds by discharging recovered patients compared to other types of inpatient stays, therefore rapidly rising daily admissions creates a pileup in wards that can take a week or more to thin out.