A Pandemic First in Michigan: Young Under 40 More Likely to Be Hospitalized Than Elderly Over 80

Joseph Serwach

Vaccination rates matter: 74% of elderly but just 36% of young Michigan residents received shots

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In Michigan, the young are now more likely to be hospitalized than the elderly.Photo by Engin Akyurt on Unsplash.

DETROIT — Michigan continues to lead the nation in COVID-19 cases, and for the first time, young people 40 and under are more likely to be hospitalized than the elderly 80 and over.

Michigan is still averaging more than 4,000 cases per day (though numbers are dropping), while Colorado ranks second with 1,692 cases.

“It’s definitely become more of a young person disease now,” Dr. Mark Hamed of Sanilac County told MLive. “(Younger people) haven’t been vaccinated, and they’ve been more likely than older folks to go out and about, be in close contact with others and go to gatherings.”

Since the November-December surge, Michigan residents in their 30s have seen hospitalization rates soar by 58 percent, while hospitalizations for people 80 or older have dropped 60 percent.

You see the change at church meetings in Grosse Pointe: the vaccinated retired members remove their masks and get comfortable again. In contrast, the Millennial members are more likely to mask up and keep a six-foot distance.

Last week, Michiganders age 40 and under accounted for 78 new hospital admissions per day while Michiganders age 80 and over accounted for just 50 admissions per day, according to Michigan Health and Human Services data.

“We’ve got 20-year-olds who are getting admitted, and 30-year-olds requiring oxygen, which we never saw before, and needing as much treatment as we can give them,” Dr. Joel Fishbain, an infectious disease specialist at Beaumont Hospital in Grosse Pointe, told MLive. “We’ve got 40-and 50-year-olds ending up on ventilators.”

Hospitalization rates soaring for young, crashing for older patients

Whatever happened to COVID-19 being a virus that primarily hurt the elderly? Michigan officials say it’s the difference in vaccination rates:

  • 74 percent of Michigan residents 70 and older have received at least one dose of vaccine.
  • Two-thirds of Michigan residents 70 and older are fully vaccinated.
  • Just 36 percent of Michigan residents ages 16 to 49 have received one dose of vaccine.
  • Only 23 percent of Michigan residents ages 16 to 49 are fully vaccinated.
  • In 2020, Michigan residents age 60 or older accounted for 23 percent of cases, but they only account for 13 percent of the cases now.
  • In 2020, Michigan residents ages 20 and under accounted for just 13 percent of cases, but now they account for 25 percent of new cases.
  • What about children being virtually immune to the virus’s worst effects? Just six Michigan children died in the first year of the pandemic, but four have died in the past month.
  • Health officials also warn the virus is hazardous to pregnant women, encouraging them to get vaccinated.

Pandemic is repeating a pattern set a century ago

A similar pattern occurred in the 1918–19 Spanish Flu epidemic when the elderly and infants were most likely to die in the first surge. Still, the virus mutated in later stages to primarily impact young adults.

April 2020 and April 2021 saw peak numbers of cases where Michigan led the nation. To date, more than 17,742 Michigan residents have died from the pandemic.

Globally, cases are surging to more than 800,000 new cases per day due to high numbers in India and South America, where the population is younger. India now accounts for 40 percent of the world’s new cases, and nationally, the Biden administration is planning to stop travel for non-U.S. citizens traveling from India.

What’s next? Policy debates escalating at Michigan Capitol

From a policy standpoint, Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer is now encouraging high schools to begin offering immunizations while some universities require their students to be immunized to live on campus.

Republican lawmakers are pushing to bar mandated vaccinations or so-called vaccination passports. House legislation would stop local governments from “incentivizing” vaccine passports. In a separate spending bill, Republicans want to ban state universities from requiring students to “prove” they have been vaccinated to be enrolled or receive in-person instruction.

Whitmer last week outlined a new plan tying an easing of state restrictions to higher vaccination rates.

“On our path to vaccinating 70 percent of Michiganders 16 and up, we can take steps to get back to normal while keeping people safe gradually,” Whitmer said in a statement.

Michigan Senate Republican Leader Mike Shirkey of Clarksdale complained it had taken Whitmer 400 days to layout understandable metrics for reopening.

Grand Traverse, Muskegon, and Montmorency counties are still hotspots for the pandemic though numbers are dropping elsewhere.

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Downtown Detroit remains popular with young Michiganders.Photo by Ghita Chaoui on Unsplash

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