On Friday night, I worked a 12-hour shift in the designated COVID-19 area of my hospital’s emergency department in New York City. Over the course of the night, I examined six patients who were exhibiting common symptoms of the novel coronavirus; five of them were in their 20s or early 30s.
I am 28 years old. Up until Friday, when people asked me whether I was scared, I would tell them yes—for my country, my colleagues, my 92-year-old grandmother, and all the people most vulnerable to getting seriously ill from the virus, but not for myself. I, like many others, believed that young people were less likely to get sick, and that if they did, the illness was mild, with a quick recovery.
I now know that isn’t the case. The fact is that young people with no clear underlying health conditions are getting seriously ill from COVID-19 in significant numbers. And young Americans—no matter how healthy and invincible they feel—need to understand that.
My first patient was in their early 20s. (To protect their confidentiality, I’m referring to my patients without mentioning their gender.) They had a dry cough and a 102-degree fever, but their chest X-ray came back clear and their oxygen levels were safe. I wanted to test them for COVID-19, but they weren’t sick enough to require admission to the hospital, which meant I couldn’t do so. We desperately want to be able to test and take care of everyone, from the seriously ill to the mildly sick and worried, but with our current capacity, we simply can’t. I told them that they needed to assume they had the virus, and gave them instructions on how to quarantine at home.