COVID-19 And Age Realities

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In my recent article of June 12th, “COVID Fatigue and The Second Wave”, I floated the controversial idea of lifting restrictions from those 54 years of age or younger while keeping stronger measures for those 65 and older. By letting the grand majority of our workforce get back to action, we might save our economy while not contributing significantly to numbers of severe cases and deaths from COVID-19.

Now, it appears that I’m not the only one who has been punching the numbers and considering this controversial (and admittedly “ageist”) strategy. The editorial staff of the Wall Street Journal, people who should know when something has to be done about the economy, are making similar recommendations.

In the June 13/14th weekend issue, the Wall Street Journal editorial staff evaluated statistics derived by Stanford University with regards to age. The Journal article states that researchers found the median age of death from COVID-19 is 80 years old, with 80% over the age of 65. The Journal article suggests that, in places like California and Florida, the risk of dying if you’re under 65 years old isn’t much greater than driving to work.

According to the Foundation for Research on Equal Opportunity, the highest risk age group for death from COVID-19 is 85 and over. Of course, those over 85 are much more likely to die from just about any cause than younger folks.

On the other end of the age spectrum, children 14 and under are many times less likely to die of COVID-19 than the seasonal flu. Once you hit 25 all the way to 85 years old, your risk of dying from COVID-19 remains low, but twice or more the frequency of deaths from the flu.

The knowledge we’ve gained about the virus in the last few months appears to have benefitted young patients disproportionately. The Journal reports that, in late March, Americans over 75 made up half of deaths, with those under 45 about four to five percent. Currently, it is thought that 75-year-olds and older comprise two-thirds of fatalities, with the 45 and under age group down to about two percent.

None of the above is helpful personally to someone like me, who still remembers his draft lottery number from the Vietnam era. It is good news for the nation, however. Make no mistake, while a second and perhaps a third wave of COVID-19 is inevitable, the number of severe cases and deaths may be fewer than expected. As such, the majority of the workforce may, with precautions, return to a semblance of normality.

Of course, we have to continue formulating strategies to protect seniors, especially those in nursing homes. These folks are often frail and have multiple health issues that put them at the most risk. As increased production of personal protection equipment makes surgical masks and other items more available, a good amount should go to medical workers taking care of our elderly (even if it is at home and you are the “medical worker”). Frequent testing of nursing home staff and contacts is also imperative to nip outbreaks in the bud.

At home, elderly family members must still be protected from infection. Just because the economy needs a jump-start doesn’t mean that the recipe for personal safety has changed.  As society opens up, second and third wave curves need to be flattened so as to not overwhelm our medical infrastructure.

While we haven’t seen the end of COVID-19 by a long shot, it’s time for the nation’s young people to prove that Americans are as resilient in the face of adversity as they have always been. I’ll accept a bit of “ageism” if it gets the country running again. Sure, reopening is fraught with risks, but the alternative is worse for both young and old.

Joe Alton MD

Dr. Alton

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