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Doctors warn they’re seeing more COVID hospitalizations, deaths among unvaccinated younger people

Published: Sep. 24, 2021 at 2:14 PM HST|Updated: Sep. 24, 2021 at 5:19 PM HST
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HONOLULU (HawaiiNewsNow) - At Adventist Health Castle in Kailua, caregivers are seeing COVID patients hospitalized who are younger and generally in good health.

Many have never been admitted to the hospital for anything else.

And they’re showing up at the ER because they can’t breathe.

“If you’ve ever felt air hunger, you’re scared. It usually happens rapidly and takes them by surprise,” said Adventist Health Castle Palliative Care Coordinator Sheri Richards.

While Hawaii’s COVID infection rate has dropped more than 30% over the past three weeks, the state continues to report new deaths almost every day ― including in younger people.

On Friday, health officials said nine more lives in Hawaii had been lost to COVID. Two of those people were in their 20s. Another woman was in her 30s.

And since Sept. 1, Hawaii has reported 158 COVID fatalities.

Dr. Robert Smitson, Adventist Health Castle hospitalist and chief medical officer, said he’s seeing very sick COVID patients “who considered themselves healthy.”

“They’re typically all unvaccinated,” he said.

Although COVID hospitalizations statewide are trending down, Castle has yet to experience any relief. Prior to the pandemic, the hospital’s ICU would have no more than eight patients.

“This weekend, I think our ICU had 18 patients,” he said.

While most of the people who are hospitalized with COVID generally have other conditions, Smitson says a lot of them had those ailments under control before catching the virus.

“Now we’re seeing people who have mild diabetes or might be mildly overweight,” he said.

And not everyone survives. “I’m seeing a lot more deaths in my patients than I’m used to seeing. And they’re younger,” Smitson said. “A lot of times it’s unexpected. You look at these patients and say without COVID they probably would have lived 25 more years.”

Statewide, up to 15% of hospitalized COVID patients are fully vaccinated but they generally come from much more vulnerable groups. “They are a very different population,” Smitson said.

“They are very elderly, they have cancer, a lot of chronic illnesses.”

Healthcare workers say their message is simple: Most of the suffering can be stopped with vaccines.

“That’s hard for me as a lot of it’s preventable,” said Smitson.

“Get vaccinated,” Richards added. “We’ll do our part. You do your part.”

On Friday, health officials confirmed 67.2% of Hawaii residents were fully vaccinated.

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