Still a Lot Wrong

While COVID can easily infect anyone, its effects are absolutely not random, nor does the disease threaten everyone equally

By Dave Skinner

Last time, I threw a mess of COVID-19 numbers down on paper, hoping to make some sense of this pandemic, despite all the gaps in both data and policy.

What the public needs, and still doesn’t have, is clear data giving age-group breakdowns revealing the infection/diagnosis rate per 100,000 population, then rates of hospitalization and/or deaths after infection for each age group.

So, when you can’t get what you need, you use what you get:

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) “Hospitalizations per 100,000 population” as of June 6, 2020. Yep, June 6 is old, and the basis is hospitalizations, not diagnoses.

Between age 4 and 18, there were 3.1 hospital cases per 100,000. Toddlers ran slightly higher, at 5.6 per 100,000. Above 18, the overall rates of hospitalization climb more steeply with age. From 50 to 64, the rate was 136.1; and over 85, 513.2. In short, senior seniors are about 100 times more likely to be hospitalized than young healthies.

But that’s not all because of COVID. Another source, statista.com, presented data on “normal” overall rates of hospitalization, categorized as any period of hospitalization from any cause in the past year. From 18 to 44, about 6 percent annually go to the hospital. From 45 to 65, about 8 percent. From 65 on up, over 15 percent.

The Healthcare Cost and Utilization Project (HCUP) presented a snapshot of 2012 using a different methodology. Your “normal” chance of being hospitalized in the past year, boiled down: Age 45-64, 10.8 percent; 65-84, 26 percent; over 85, 50 percent! Without any COVID in the mix!

One HCUP factoid worth considering: “In 2012, there were about 36.5 million hospital stays (lasting 4.5 days at) an average cost of $10,400 per stay.” Scary.

In sum, while COVID can easily infect anyone, its effects are absolutely not random, nor does the disease threaten everyone equally. The COVID death rate is running at least 10 times higher for those over 55 than under, or from another angle, 96% of COVID fatalities happen over age 45.

Obviously, basic wellness and age combine to affect COVID infection outcomes. Keep in mind, not all of us are identical when it comes to viral resistance – colds and flu. Some of us seem “basically well,” immune to everything, while others seem to catch everything, right?  Also with wellness, it matters that the top five COVID “co-morbidities” are also the top five “natural cause” killers or life-shorteners (heart, lung, blood pressure, cancer and diabetes). That the likelihood of developing any or all of the top five increases with age also matters.

Adding medical issues as we add years is a fact of life. Our cells regenerate more slowly as we get older, leaving us all a smaller “margin” for fighting and recovering from injury, illness, or both. If our margins are already narrow, with or without a “top five,” COVID will rip our remaining margin away.

What should we each do ourselves in light of the data, and no vaccine yet? All of us need to weigh our risks wisely and act accordingly, especially around gray hair. But most of us can and should get on with life, work and school.

For me, age 60, still immune to everything, with none of the top five, I doubt I’ll get sick, or even symptomatic. Nonetheless, I shoot a temperature every morning and use sanitizer. In public, I’m avoiding crowds, maintaining distance, not lingering, and masked. I’m avoiding restaurants and bars, except for takeout. Why? My dad is 85, with two of the top five. I haven’t touched dad for months.

Senior protection aside, what about protecting our kids from COVID? Missing a school year will set them all back, permanently, so I really lean toward getting our schools and universities open for personal education, with educator assignments shifted to reflect actual health concerns. Some educators are high-risk, so they should seek assignments to remote learning, administration, or small classes in large rooms; while “young healthies” take the “conventional” slots.

Any shortage of educators could be moderated by focusing on essentials; basically the “three-R” hard skills every citizen must develop in order to function as an adult. Post-secondary education should emphasize core major classes, the fundamentals needed for the skill set sought.

Electives? Sports? Hugs? Ask me after there’s a decent vaccine.

Stay Connected with the Daily Roundup.

Sign up for our newsletter and get the best of the Beacon delivered every day to your inbox.