- Although older people are at higher risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19, the virus is killing young Americans in record numbers.
- Between March 1 and July 31, 12,000 more Americans between the ages of 25 and 44 died than one would normally expect. About 40% of these deaths were directly due to COVID-19.
- Two families whose 21-year-old sons have died from COVID-19 describe how quickly and severely the young men fell ill.
- Visit the Business Insider homepage for more stories.
Anna Boyer-Killion was holding her son, Bryant, when he stopped breathing.
The 21-year-old woke his family at their home in Champaign, Ill., In the middle of the night on December 19. He couldn’t control his asthma and asked to go to the hospital. But before they could leave, he went into cardiac arrest.
“He wrapped his arms around me and he died in my arms,” Boyer-Killion told Business Insider.
Boyer had previously been hospitalized with chronic asthma, but the coronavirus made his condition worse. His mother started CPR after calling 911 and paramedics were able to get Bryant to the hospital. But he was pronounced dead there on December 21.
“He was always able to recover and it just wasn’t the same,” said Bryant’s aunt Sarah Boyer.
Bryant was far from the only young American to die of COVID-19 last year.
A December study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly 40% of excess deaths among Americans aged 25 to 44 from March through July were due to COVID-19. Almost 12,000 more people in this age group died in those five months than one would expect from historical data. Of these, 4,535 deaths were directly caused by COVID-19.
In the past few months alone, six children in Northridge, Calif., Have lost their 30-year-old mother to COVID-19. A 33-year-old mother in Detroit died days after giving birth to a son she was never able to hold. A 28-year-old father of two has died after 84 days in hospital. A husband has lost his 34-year-old wife after catching the coronavirus while giving birth to their daughter in a hospital.
Most of these young adults did not have pre-existing conditions like Bryant did. More and more, it has become clear that being young does not mean that you are immune from the worst effects of the virus.
‘It killed him’
Kevin Lyster works as a police officer at the University of Colorado’s Anschutz Medical Campus. When he tested positive for COVID-19, his son, Cody, had returned from the University of Colorado Mesa for spring break. Kevin isolated himself at their home in Aurora, but soon afterward Cody developed a cough and a fever of 104 degrees.
Cody was taken to hospital on March 30. It was the last time his parents and sister saw him alive in person.
“He was a perfectly healthy 21-year-old varsity athlete who did whatever it took to stay healthy and it brought him down,” Kevin said.
Cody, who was playing baseball, died in the ICU on a fan on April 8. His parents last communicated with their son via a live Facebook feed held in Lyster’s hospital bed by a nurse.
“We could see Cody and told him we were thinking of him,” his father said. “And we didn’t know much, in a few hours he would pass.
Cody was in a medically induced coma at the time.
“They say he couldn’t hear us,” Kevin said, but added, “I tend to disagree, I think he heard everything we said. ”
Young Americans Die at Above-Average Rates
The chance that a person 65 or older will die from the coronavirus is 90 times higher than a person aged 20 to 29, according to the CDC. From May to August, 78% of coronavirus deaths in the United States were in people aged 65 or older.
But this narrative, which has become almost common, hides another truth: COVID-19 has hospitalized and killed an unprecedented number of young Americans.
“My son bears witness to that,” said Kevin Lyster.
A September study found that from April to June alone, more than 3,300 Americans between the ages of 18 and 34 were hospitalized with COVID-19 and 21% required intensive care. About 3% died.
Jeremy Faust, lead author of the December study and a doctor at Brigham and Women’s Hospital, found that in July alone – a particularly deadly month for the 25-44 age group – more than 16,000 people of this demographic have died. That’s about 5,000 more people than the July average over the past two decades. Weekly death rates were almost 50% higher than the average for the previous five years.
Overall, in 2020, according to Faust, historical data suggests that approximately 154,000 Americans between the ages of 25 and 44 would die. But figures calculated by his team showed the death toll topped 165,000 in early December. And that didn’t even include the last weeks of the year.
After factoring in those extra deadly weeks, Faust estimated that “170,000 is a low estimate, and 175,000 seems a very reasonable number. ”
A majority of those deceased young adults were people of color, he said.
A comparison of weekly deaths throughout 2020 also reveals the large increase. Last year, between 2,500 and 2,900 people in the young adult age group typically died each week.
“This year, we haven’t seen an average weekly number below 3,000 since March 14. It’s crazy, ”Faust said.
“An increase in deaths does not usually affect the younger, healthier population,” he added. “It’s extremely unusual for this to happen. ”
Faust’s data undermines the prevailing idea that COVID-19 is relatively harmless to young people.
“We are not reversing this message, but we are changing it,” he said. Faust believes that young people need to be made aware that they are also in danger and that essential frontline workers need to be better protected.
Bryant Boyer-Killion died in the deadliest month of the pandemic to date
December was the deadliest month in the pandemic to date. More than 65,000 people in the United States died from COVID-19 last month. The United States has seen an increase in hospitalizations and cases, in part due to Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hospitalizations rose from almost 99,000 to over 125,000 between December 1 and December 31 – a 27% increase. Six million Americans fell ill during this time.
Bryant Boyer-Killion’s aunt said it was frustrating to see so many Americans continue to travel and congregate as the pandemic worsened.
“It’s hard to see people who don’t seem to care, you know, while you’re in mourning,” Boyer said.
Bryant worked as a security guard at the Carle Foundation Hospital, where he was born. This put him early in the vaccination line: he was due to receive the first vaccine on December 22, the day after his death.
“You might not care if you get it, but you can give it to someone else who can’t fight it. And my son is one example, ”said Anna Boyer-Killion.
Anna believes Bryant caught the coronavirus at work and wants hospital workers tested more regularly. Her son knew his job was risky, she said, but “he always stood up and tried to show me he was not afraid. ”
Bryant cared so much about his job that he spent his 21st birthday in April working a 12-hour shift. Anna said he always stepped up his efforts like this: After Bryant’s father, John Killion, was injured at work in 2015, Bryant began caring for his little sister, Riley.
A tattoo on his arm read “my sister’s protector”.
Bryant’s family buried him on Boxing Day.
For days after his death, Anna said, she tried not to close her eyes because she saw him die in her arms.
“He was everything to me,” she said.
Coronavirus is the leading cause of death in the United States
Since November 1, the coronavirus has become the leading cause of death in the United States, overtaking heart disease and cancer, according to a recent analysis. More than 4,000 Americans died from COVID-19 on Thursday – yet another record.
But Kevin Lyster said he’s not sure his son’s friends understand they aren’t invincible. Last month, he said, he heard that one of Cody’s friends wanted to throw a New Years party.
“I’m like, ‘Didn’t you get anything out of this?’ Kevin said.
About 366,000 people have died in the United States since the start of the pandemic, although this is almost certainly an undercount. One projection estimates that the virus could kill more than 200,000 more people in the United States by April 1.
More than nine months after Cody’s death, his parents and younger sister, Sierra, are still grappling with his absence.
“He brought this house to life,” Kevin said.
Cody helped coach the Sierra youth softball team, and he spent his Sundays in college walking dogs at the Roice-Hurst Humane Society.
“We didn’t even know he did it until we got a condolence card from Roice-Hurst,” Kevin said, adding, “he was trying to make the world a better place without any recognition. ”
The holidays intensified the grief of the Lysters.
Cody was a fan of Christmas traditions – he and Sierra always exchanged the family’s first gifts on Christmas Eve, his mother Lea Ann said. Cody had a knack for guessing what his gifts were, she added, so the family would take extreme measures to keep Cody on their toes, by designing treasure hunts and changing gift tags.
“He put the magic on Christmas,” Lea Ann said, adding, “Don’t take the time you have with your loved ones for granted. ”
She and Kevin made sure Sierra still had a present from Cody under the tree this year.