The community has been told from the start of the COVID-19 pandemic that older people — especially those with underlying medical conditions — are at the greatest risk of contracting and dying from the disease caused by the novel coronavirus.
The experience in Santa Barbara County shows that to be largely the case, with some notable exceptions, according to a Noozhawk analysis.
Ten people have died from COVID-19 in the county, including two inmates from the Lompoc federal correctional complex.
Of the eight non-inmate deaths, four were in the 50-69 age group, three in the 70-plus group, and one in the 30-49 group, according to the Santa Barbara County Public Health Department.
Most reportedly had underlying health conditions, although it is unclear whether those compromised their ability to fight the disease.
People between the ages of 50 and 69 make up 21.6 percent of the county’s 443,668 population, but account for 32 percent of the confirmed COVID-19 cases as of Thursday.
Put another way, that is about 43 percent more than if all age groups were affected proportionally.
(Population figures are from 2018, the most recent available, according to the Santa Barbara County Association of Governments.)
The outcomes for that age group are alarming when it comes to deaths — 50.5 percent were residents in their 50s or 60s.
With the 70-plus population, the situation is even more dire.
People aged 70 and older make up 10.2 percent of COVID-19 patients, virtually the same as their proportion of the population.
But they account for 37.5 percent of the deaths, or nearly four times their proportion of the population.
“Older people have a weaker immune system,” Dr. Henning Ansorg, the county’s public health officer, told Noozhawk in response to these figures. “They very frequently die from an infection that younger people would recover from.”
Ansorg pointed out that people in their 60s often have have significant health problems, such as diabetes, and chronic heart and kidney disease. He also said that “obesity plays a significant role in weakening the immune system.”
|Share of Population||22.3%||22.9%||23.1%||21.6%||10.1%|
|Number of Cases||25||84||156||139||46|
|Share of Cases||5.6%||18.7%||34.7%||30.9%||10.2%|
|Share of Deaths||0%||0%||12.5%||50.5%||37.5%|
There has been only one local fatality among people 30-49 years old, but that age group has been hard hit by COVID-19, including some residents who have become seriously ill.
That group makes up about 23 percent of the county’s population, but accounts for 34.7 percent of the confirmed cases.
There’s no clear explanation for the experience of this relatively young and seemingly healthy segment of the population, although many of the people in this age range likely are healthcare workers, first responders, or other “essential” employees such as grocery store clerks who have higher levels of potential exposure.
It also is a group that is more likely to be tested.
“It’s difficult to explain” why this segment of the population has been so susceptible to COVID-19, Ansorg said.
“The only bright side,” he added, “is the percentage of severe illness and death among this group is low.”
The 18-29 age group is tracking below its proportion of the population — it represents 18.7 percent of the cases versus 22.9 percent of the population.
Meanwhile, the 0-17 group is vastly below its proportion of the population — 5.6 percent of cases versus 22.3 percent of the population.
It’s not surprising that younger people have largely escaped the novel coronavirus. This tends to be a healthier and more resilient population, children have been somewhat isolated with schools being closed, and likely fewer of them are being tested.
“The age group of K-12 has the least prevalence and lowest percentage of COVID,” Ansorg noted.
“Even influenza affects all age groups and affects children,” he continued. “This one does not. This virus is sparing our children.”
Health officials have pointed out that while children have only contracted COVID-19 in small numbers — and mostly have mild or no symptoms — they can still be carriers of the disease.
Lompoc federal prison complex inmates account for hundreds of additional COVID-19 cases in Santa Barbara County, but the U.S. Bureau of Prisons is suppressing age data, so they are not included in this analysis.
Taking a step back, Santa Barbara County’s numbers correspond fairly well with statewide and national statistics.
California breaks down the age groups differently, but its statistics show that 78 percent of deaths have been in the 65-plus age group; 16 percent in the 50-64 group; and 7 percent in the 18-49 group.
What lessons can be drawn from all these numbers?
First, it would seem imperative to take every step possible to protect older members of the community, as well as those with underlying health conditions that put them at greater risk of severe illness from the novel coronavirus.
Second, protective measures such as social distancing, wearing masks, and sanitizing will be essential to protecting the active workforce — both essential employees and others who will be returning to the workplace in coming weeks.
Finally, it appears the risk to children is relatively low, which means it may be possible to reopen schools and daycare centers fairly quickly, albeit with modifications to prevent disease spread.
“The state’s plan and our local plan is we want to open schools in the first increment of reopening business,” Ansorg said. “It’s essential for the workforce.
“How can a parent go to work if their kids can’t go to school? The fact is, this nasty virus does not infect children as much.”
In that regard, Ansorg said he’s hopeful summer camps will be able to reopen as well, assuming they “can reorganize to allow for social distancing as much as possible.
“But it will not be exactly the same summer camp as it was last year.”