A: The risk of ending up in the hospital for COVID-19 varies quite a bit by age.
Based on data from the state of Wisconsin, the chances of being hospitalized (given that you’ve had a positive test for COVID-19) range from 1 in 100 for kids to 1 in 3 for people aged 80 and up. Here’s the whole list of age-specific hospitalization risks:
🏥 Ages 0 to 9: 1 in 100
🏥 Ages 10 to 19: 1 in 100
🏥 Ages 20 to 29: 1 in 100
🏥 Ages 30 to 39: 1 in 48
🏥 Ages 40 to 49: 1 in 36
🏥 Ages 50 to 59: 1 in 20
🏥 Ages 60 to 69: 1 in 11
🏥 Ages 70 to 79: 1 in 5
🏥 Ages 80 to 89: 1 in 3
🏥 Ages 90 and up: 1 in 3
This is important as we weigh our own risks, but it’s even more important because the United States is about to face a crisis in hospital resources.
We simply don’t have unlimited space in our hospitals, and with tons of new cases of COVID-19 happening every day (over 100,000 on each of several days this past week, in fact), we could run out. That is, we could run out of actual rooms and beds to put people in, run out of medications and ventilators to help people who are hospitalized survive, run out of staff to care for patients, and run out of the essential supplies that keep those healthcare providers safe like masks and face shields.
And to make things worse, there is a disconnect between how fast people with COVID-19 enter and leave the hospital. We can imagine this like a sink with a slow drain. Water is flowing into the sink quickly, but it’s draining out slowly. If we don’t shut off the water flowing into the sink, it will soon overflow. And then what do we do with the extra water?
In the state of Wisconsin, which is facing some of the worst of the United States’ outbreak at the moment, the National Guard has set up a temporary field hospital at the State Fair Grounds to help with the overflow.
In places that were hit hard early on in the pandemic, such as Italy, healthcare providers were forced to ration health care resources–that means deny some people lifesaving care–because there wasn’t enough to go around. Care rationing could be on the horizon for some hospital systems in hard-hit areas in the United States.
If there is not enough hospital to go around, some people who could have really used hospital-based care won’t get it, and we could see the COVID-19 death rate shoot up. We could even see the death rate from other health crises go up, if we don’t have enough resources to treat people with heart attacks, stroke, gunshot wounds, and other emergent issues.
Overwhelming the hospitals is one of the often-ignored risks of having a lot of COVID-19 cases all at the same time. It’s scary business. What can we do? Stay safe. Stay sane. Get SMART. And please think long and hard about the best way to visit with grandma at Thanksgiving.