Why 32% Of Young Adults Are Vulnerable To Severe Covid-19 Coronavirus Infections


Isn’t it great to be a young adult? You can do all sorts of things such as eat mayonnaise directly from a jar, cement your head in a microwave oven, or expose yourself to the Covid-19 coronavirus and not worry about the health consequences, right? Well, not exactly. Cementing your head is a bad idea in general if you happen to be fond of your head. And a study just published in the Journal of Adolescent Health showed that Covid-19 is not just your father’s (or mother’s) disease. It found that 32% of those in the 18-to-25-year age group may be at risk for getting severe illness if infected with the Covid-19 coronavirus.

Yikes. Or perhaps big yikes. Isn’t this quite different from the picture that’s been painted of Covid-19 by some, that it’s a disease that supposedly mainly affects older adults? How about the young adults who have been partying like they just don’t care? How did Sally H. Adams, Ph.D, M. Jane Park, MPHJason Schaub, MPH, Claire Brindis, DrPH and Charles E. Irwin Jr., M.D. from the University of California San Francisco (UCSF) come to this conclusion?

So many questions.

Well, for the study, this research team put together an indicator of “medical vulnerability” for Covid-19 illness based on the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) list of risk factors. This wasn’t exactly the most complex of indicators. If you were a young adult, this indicator would classify you as either a “yes” you are medically vulnerable to severe Covid-19 illness or a “no” you are not. As with feelings about black licorice or spray tans, there was only two possible answers, either a “yes” or a “no” with no in between.

You would qualify as a “yes” if you have one of the following six medical conditions: a heart condition (e.g., coronary heart disease, angina, and heart attack), diabetes, asthma, immune condition (e.g., rheumatoid arthritis, gout, lupus, or fibromyalgia), liver condition, and obesity. Having more than one of these conditions would not “up your score,” because there was no score. Again there are only two possible answers. You couldn’t be a “yes, yes, yes” or a “YES” in ALL CAPS.

Another way to fall into the “yes” category would be to have used tobacco, cigars, or electronic cigarettes (e-cigarettes) over the past 30 days. That’s because smoking is also considered a risk factor for worse Covid-19 outcomes. After all, inhaling smoke into your lungs isn’t the best way to protect yourself against a respiratory virus that can damage your lungs. Now while e-cigarettes aren’t exactly, technically, specifically on the CDC-list, the authors included it because of “its adverse effects on respiratory and immune function.” Could you increase your score if you smoked more often or greater quantities or had a medical condition as well? Umm, no, because the indicator had only two options, yes or no.

With this most complicated of indicators in place, the research team then combed through the answers to the National Health Interview Survey (NHIS) that 8,405 young adults had provided from 2016 to 2018 and determined who fell into the “yes” versus “no” categories. This wasn’t just a convenience sample, such as everyone who happened to turn up to someone’s campaign rally. Instead, it was designed to be a nationally representative sample of young adults. Close to half (49.6%) of the respondents were female. A little over half were White (55.0%), 13.3% were Black, 22.1% Hispanic, 5.5% Asian, and 4.1% of other races.

So sorting out the responses to the relevant questions revealed that 32% of this sample of 18-to-25 year olds qualified as “yes.” That included 33% of males and 30% of females. Of all the criteria, smoking in the past 30 days was the most common criterion that folks had, with 11% of them responding affirmative to this question. This was followed by asthma (9% of the young adults), using e-cigarette in the past 30 days (7%), and using cigar products in the past 30-days (5%). When just looking at just the nonsmoking group, 16% qualified as “medically vulnerable,” 19% of the females and 13% of the males. Thus, smoking is playing a big role in pushing up the number of young adults classified as higher risk.

All of this is a reminder that young adults in the 18-to-25-year-old range aren’t necessary all super healthy and indestructible. They aren’t young adult Groots. With Covid-19 coronavirus cases surging in many states, everyone needs to be careful and continue to take precautions and social distance, regardless of whether your coming of age movie was Booksmart, Wall Street, American Graffiti, The Graduate or Rebel Without A Cause. If you believe that you can’t get really sick from Covid-19 and don’t protect yourself, the question “who allowed you to take my breath away,” may end up being directed to the Covid-19 coronavirus.

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