40% of COVID-19 patients at Washington hospital under 40; young patients drive new surge

A fourth COVID-19 wave is driving hospitalizations in Washington state, with younger people accounting for an increasing proportion of patients, and some experiencing more severe disease than seen earlier in the pandemic, reports The Seattle Times.

"Forty percent of our cases were under the age of 40, which is mind-boggling to me," said Chris Baliga, MD, an infectious disease physician with Bainbridge Island, Wash.-based Virginia Mason Franciscan Health. The system reported more than 90 COVID-19 patients hospitalized late last week, Dr. Baliga said, adding that younger patients appear to be sicker than before. 

Dr. Baliga said the rise of variants such as B.1.1.7, first identified in the U.K., is likely the "single most important factor" driving transmission and could be responsible for severe disease.  

"We are seeing younger patients than what we saw in earlier surges," said Tom DeBord, chief operating officer at Bellevue, Wash.-based Overlake Medical Center. "COVID fatigue has settled in in this group and they are letting their guard down. We have a group of folks who aren't as highly vaccinated yet and are less likely to follow the guidance."

Mount Vernon, Wash.-based Skagit Valley Regional Health is experiencing similar trends, with three COVID-19 patients in their 20s recently transferred to receive extracorporeal membrane oxygenation, according to Connie Davis, MD, the organization's CMO. Dr. Davis said younger patients often have obesity in common, a comorbidity tied to severe COVID-19.

From March 21 to April 18, COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide jumped 40 percent, according to data from the state Department of Health. In early January, about two-thirds of the hospitalizations were among those 60 or older. Now, the highest number of hospitalizations is among people 40 to 59, according to the most recent state data. 

Total COVID-19 hospitalizations statewide had been around 350 for the past five weeks, said Cassie Sauer, president and CEO of the Washington State Hospital Association. That number is now around 600 hospitalizations, Ms. Sauer said, adding that "this looks like the same trajectory we saw in November."

However, not all hospitals are reporting increasing patient loads, with a spokesperson for Pullman (Wash.) Regional Hospital reporting no uptick in COVID-19 hospitalizations.

On April 22, Gov. Jay Inslee said the state was entering its fourth COVID-19 wave, citing a significant increase in new cases and hospitalizations, along with a drop in vaccine demand.


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