COLORADO SPRINGS — We are following up on our last story about the continued importance of COVID testing and how UCHealth has worked to make the testing process more patient-friendly. The health system now offers a less-invasive nasal swab to test for the virus.
And with data showing a rising incidence of COVID in the community, testing and vaccinations are more important than ever – particularly among younger populations, health officials say.
“With increased disease in our community and hospitalizations trending younger, it is imperative that younger age groups get vaccinated, especially among the 16-39 age group,” Fadi Youkhana, epidemiologist for El Paso County Public Health, said Thursday.
Getting a vaccine remains a personal choice, and some people have strong feelings on the subject. But, do they work? The data says they do.
This week, the CDC released an assessment that found fully vaccinated adults age 65 and older were 94 percent less likely to be hospitalized with COVID-19 than people of the same age who were unvaccinated. The findings were the result of hospitalization data from 24 hospitals across the nation, including data from UCHealth.
In Colorado, overall hospitalizations are up. UCHealth, for instance, reported that on April 1st, 2021, it had 70 patients in its hospitals across the state with COVID-19 infections. By Thursday morning, April 29th, UCHealth had about 150 patients hospitalized with COVID-19.
And more of the patients are younger. From Oct. 1 through Dec. 31, the average age of patients hospitalized with COVID at UCHealth hospitals statewide was 59 years old. In mid-December, vaccines were made available, with a focus at first on older, more high-risk people. From February through March, as more of the older population became fully vaccinated, the average age of people hospitalized with UCHealth dropped to 56.
Rob Welch is the director of laboratory services for UCHealth Memorial and oversees COVID-19 testing. He says the trends in positive test results reflects the same trend of younger people getting infected. “We have seen the average age of our positive patient go down over 3 years in age range, which may not sound like a much, but it does point to the fact that some of our vaccine strategy is having good efficacy. People 65 and older used to make up about 15% of our positive cases now they only make up about 7%.”
Other hospitalization data from UCHealth specific to the Pikes Peak region shows the same trend.
In January 2021, during the biggest spike in cases, 37% of hospitalizations at UCHealth hospitals in the Pikes Peak region were among people 60 and younger. In February, the 60 and younger group made up 41% of hospitalizations. In March, the number of hospitalized patients 60 and younger grew to 54%. Through April 27th, the age 60 and younger group of hospitalized patients rose further, to 57%.
These trends in data confirm younger people are driving the current rise in cases in the Pikes Peak Region. So, what’s the big takeaway? Sure - not everyone who tests positive will need to be hospitalized or will even be symptomatic. When it comes to UCHealth’s COVID-19 testing data, Rob Welch, the lab director, says, “Of the total number of positive (test results) that we see, about 50% now are in folks 40 years of age and younger.”
The state and El Paso County have set a goal of vaccinating at least 75 percent of eligible individuals with one dose by July 4. Including federal estimates, 48.7 percent of eligible individuals in El Paso County have received at least one dose – leaving a long way to go to meet that July 4 deadline.
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