Younger adults in New York City are being hospitalized with Covid-19 infections at surprisingly high rates, said doctors and other health-care workers treating them, undermining earlier assumptions about who’s most at risk from the new coronavirus.

New York has more confirmed cases than anywhere else in the U.S., and about one in five hospitalizations are occurring in people under age 44, according to data released by the city’s health department. Globally, moderate-to-severe cases have occurred in 10% to 15% of adults under age 50, according to the World Health Organization.

On Friday at Manhattan's Mount Sinai Morningside Hospital, a previously healthy 32-year-old male patient turned to doctor Kaedrea Jackson and asked: “Am I going to die?”

The young man, who had no underlying medical conditions, was short of breath with a fever, and his oxygen levels were dropping rapidly. He’d come to the hospital’s emergency department four days earlier but was told to go home, drink water, take Tylenol and self-isolate. Now he was back and his condition was deteriorating. “The level of fear in his eyes stood out to me,” Jackson, an emergency medicine physician, recalled in an interview Tuesday. “He was extremely scared. And he was so young.”

For months, the message from authorities had been that older people were at the highest risk. It was a belief so strongly held that health officials took to chastising people in their 20s and 30s to stay home—not to protect themselves, but to avoid transmitting the disease to older populations. That changed in mid-March, when a top White House health official warned that young people in Italy and France were falling ill. Now, the trend has shown up in the U.S.

“So many patients are not fitting the picture that we’ve been told from China or Italy. This is not just elderly patients; it’s anyone,” Jackson said. A confidential U.S. intelligence report has raised doubts about China’s reporting of the outbreak, including under-counting cases, Bloomberg News reported Wednesday.

As many as 20% of confirmed cases at the hospital have been under age 50, Jackson estimated. Many younger doctors in their 30s are watching healthy patients their age being admitted into the hospital and needing to be put on a ventilator.

“People are scared. These are patients where you’re thinking: ‘This just shouldn’t be happening to you. You’re so young. Why is this happening?”

New York Governor Andrew Cuomo said too many young people haven’t gotten the message that they can be infected.

“"You still see too many situations with too much density by young people,” Cuomo said at his daily press briefing Wednesday. “They can get it, and they're putting their lives at risk. This can kill young people, rare circumstances, but it can."

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