Nearly one-third of COVID-19 patients being treated in intensive care units in Houston are now under the age of 50 – as cases continue to spike among young adults across Texas and health workers warn many are getting seriously ill.
During the first surge of cases in mid-April, the majority of patients being treated for coronavirus in the Houston Methodist hospital system were older than 50.
In a disturbing generational shift, about 60 percent of current patients are under that age bracket. Almost one in three who are now occupying ICU beds are also under 50.
Infections are currently spiking among young adults in states like Texas where bars, nightclubs and restaurants reopened – prompting younger generations to start going out again, many without wearing masks.
While health experts have been warning that such behavior poses a bigger danger to older people who cross their paths, current trends in hospitalizations show that younger people do face the possibility of severe infection and death from COVID-19.
Houston Methodist CEO Dr Marc Boom told CNBC’s Squawk Box that the current surge had ‘completely flipped’ since the early stages of the pandemic.
He said about 40 percent of patients were under the age of 50 in mid-April and one in five were in ICU.
‘We are definitely seeing this affect young people and they’re getting quite ill,’ he said.
The Houston Methodist hospital system is part of the Texas Medical Center’s cluster of major public and private hospitals in the city.
Tritico Saranathan, a nurse in one of Methodist’s designated virus wards, told the New York Times she had noticed a difference in the age of patients compared to mid-April – and warned that many were ‘just feeling like death’.
‘We’re seeing a lot of people in their 30s – they’re out there partying and not wearing their masks,’ she said.
‘As soon as the city opened up, they were very eager to go to the bars, to the clubs, to the restaurants, just to hang out in groups. And no one was social distancing or wearing a mask.
‘What I’m seeing is that they’re pretty sick – the younger ones are pretty sick. They’re struggling a lot with respiratory issues. They’re having a hard time breathing.’
Dr Faisal Masud, who is the medical director for critical care across all of Houston Methodist’s hospitals, said he had also noticed 30 to 35 years old being admitted.
He said the younger people who were severely ill tended to be obese or have health conditions like diabetes, kidney disease and high blood pressure.
‘I think that there was a sense of being invincible or this is not their problem, even if they caught it, no big deal,’ he said.
Dr Masud said he had noticed a change in attitude the past few days.
At Methodist, the majority of COVID-19 patients are currently in designated medical wards and not in intensive care.
Health officials say that could be a result of the current surge in younger – and often healthier – patients.
As of Monday, there were a record 5,900 coronavirus patients in hospitals across Texas.
Daily hospitalizations across the state have been consistently increasing since mid-June.
There are 1,400 ICU beds available across the states and just over 5,600 ventilators.
In Harris County, which covers much of Houston and is one of the largest counties in the county, the majority of COVID-19 cases are people aged between 30 to 39.
The second most affected age bracket to 20 to 29 year olds.
Health officials have described young people’s actions in states like Texas as irresponsible behavior as photos show packed bars and restaurants after the state lifted restrictions.
Texas Governor Greg Abbott reversed that decision last Friday when he ordered all bars to close.
It comes as some Texas hospitals have been warning they are running out of ICU beds for COVID-19 patients.
The Texas Medical Center system had created a COVID-19 ‘war room’ to handle a 66 percent surge in additional ICU patients with strategies including reassigning staff, putting beds closer together and using regular beds for emergency use.
They calculated last week that they would run out of space on July 6 if the current increase in Texas severe cases continues.