- Although the elderly are at higher risk of serious illness and death from COVID-19, the virus kills young Americans in record numbers.
- Between March 1 and July 31, 12,000 more Americans between the ages of 25 and 44 died than expected. About 40% of these deaths are directly due to COVID-19.
- Two families whose 21-year-old sons died of COVID-19 describe how quickly and severely the young men became 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, Illinois, in the middle of the night on December 1
“He put his arms around me and died in my arms,” Boyer-Killion told Business Insider.
Boyer has previously been hospitalized for chronic asthma, but the coronavirus worsens his condition. His mother started CPR after calling 911, and EMTs were able to take Bryant to the hospital. But there he was pronounced dead on December 21.
“He always managed 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 in the past year.
A December study published in the Journal of the American Medical Association found that nearly 40 percent of unnecessary deaths among Americans between the ages of 25 and 44 from March to July were due to COVID-19. Nearly 12,000 more people in this age group died in those five months than could be expected from historical data. Of these, 4,535 deaths were directly caused by COVID-19.
In the last few months alone, six children in Northridge, California have lost their 30-year-old mother to COVID-19. A 33-year-old mother from Detroit died days after the birth of a son, whom she never managed to keep. A 28-year-old father of two died after 84 days in hospital. A husband lost his 34-year-old wife after she caught the coronavirus giving birth to their daughter in hospital.
Most of these young adults did not have pre-existing conditions like Bryant. It is becoming increasingly clear that being young does not mean that you are safe from the worst effects of the virus.
“That took him down”
Kevin Lister works as a police officer on the medical campus of the University of Colorado Anschutz. When he tested positive for COVID-19, his son Cody returned from the University of Colorado Mesa for a spring break. Kevin was isolated at their home in Aurora, but soon after, Cody developed a cough and a 104-degree fever.
Cody was taken to hospital on March 30. For the last time, his parents and sister see him alive in person.
“He was a perfectly healthy, 21-year-old college athlete who did everything he could to stay healthy and that took him down,” Kevin said.
Cody, who plays baseball, died in the intensive care unit of a ventilator on April 8. His parents last communicated with their son via a live Facebook stream detained from Lister’s hospital bed by a nurse.
“We could see Cody and tell him we were thinking about him,” his father said. “And we knew a little bit that in a few hours he would pass.”
Cody was in a medical coma at the time.
“They say he couldn’t hear us,” Kevin said, but added, “I’m inclined to disagree, I think he heard everything we said.”
Young Americans are dying at speeds above average
The chance that someone aged 65 or over will die from the coronavirus is 90 times higher than a person between the ages of 20 and 29, according to the CDC. From May to August, 78% of coronavirus deaths in the United States were in people aged 65 or over.
But this story, which has become almost well-known, hides another truth: that COVID-19 was hospitalized and killed an unprecedented number of young Americans.
“My son is proof of that,” said Kevin Lister.
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% needed intensive treatment. About 3% died.
Jeremy Faust, lead author of the December study and a doctor at Brigham and Women Hospital, found that more than 16,000 people in that demographic died in July alone – a particularly deadly month for the 25-44 age group. That’s about 5,000 more than the July average for the past two decades. Weekly mortality rates were almost 50% higher than the average before five July.
Overall, in 2020, according to Faust, historical figures suggest that about 154,000 Americans between the ages of 25 and 44 will die. But figures from his team show that the death toll exceeded 165,000 in early December. And that didn’t even include the last few weeks of the year.
Taking these extra deadly weeks into account, Faust calculated, “170,000 are low ball scores, and 175,000 seems like a very reasonable number.”
Most of those young adults who died were people of color, he said.
A comparison of weekly deaths in 2020 also reveals a sharp increase. Last year, between 2,500 and 2,900 people in the young adult age group usually died each week.
“This year we haven’t seen an average weekly number below 3,000 since March 14. It’s crazy,” Faust said.
“The increase in deaths does not usually flow to the younger, healthier population,” he added. “It’s extremely unusual for that to happen.”
Faust’s evidence undermines the prevailing wisdom that COVID-19 is relatively harmless to younger people.
“We are not repeating this message, we are changing it,” he said. Faust believes that young people need to be made aware that they too are at risk, and that key front-line workers need to be better protected.
Bryant Boyer-Kilion dies in deadliest month of pandemic
December was the deadliest month since the pandemic. More than 65,000 people in the United States died last month from COVID-19. The United States has seen a jump in hospitalizations and cases caused in part by Thanksgiving and Christmas. Hospitalizations jumped from nearly 99,000 to more than 125,000 between December 1 and 31 – a 27% increase. During that time, six million Americans fell ill.
Bryant Boyer-Killion’s aunt said it was disappointing to see so many Americans continue to travel and reunite as the pandemic worsened.
“It’s hard to see people who don’t seem to care, you know, while you’re grieving,” Boyer said.
Bryant worked as a security guard at the Carl Foundation Hospital, where he was born. This put him early in the vaccine line: He was to receive his first shot on December 22, the day after his death.
“You may not care if you get it, but you can give it to someone else who can’t fight it. And my son is an example of that,” said Anna Boyer-Kilion.
Anna believes Bryant caught the coronavirus at work, and wants the hospital to test staff more regularly. Her son knew his job was risky, she said, but “he was always tall and trying to show me he wasn’t afraid.”
Bryant cared so much about his job that he spent his 21st birthday in April working a 12-hour shift. Anna said it has always intensified in this way: After Bryant’s father, John Kilion, had an accident at work in 2015, Bryant began helping to care for his little sister Riley.
The tattoo on his arm read “my sister’s defender.”
Bryant’s family buried him the day after Christmas.
Days after his death, Anna said, she tried not to close her eyes because she would see 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, outpacing it
and cancer, according to a recent analysis. More than 4,000 Americans died of COVID-19 on Thursday – another record.
But Kevin Lister said he wasn’t sure his son’s friends knew they weren’t invincible. Last month, he said he heard that one of Cody’s friends wanted to throw a New Year’s party.
“I’m like, ‘Didn’t you get something out of this?’ Said Kevin.
About 366,000 people have died in the United States since the beginning of the pandemic, although this is certainly not enough. According to one estimate, the virus could kill more than 200,000 people in the United States by April 1.
More than nine months after Cody’s death, his parents and younger sister Sierra are still struggling with his absence.
“He made this house alive,” Kevin said.
Cody helped coach Sierra’s youth softball team and spent his Sundays in college walking dogs in the Royce-Hearst Humanitarian Society.
“We didn’t even know he did this until we got a condolence card from Royce-Hearst,” Kevin said, adding, “he was there trying to make the world a better place without any recognition.”
The holidays heightened the Listers’ grief.
Cody was the glue for the Christmas tradition – he and Sierra always exchanged the first gifts of the family on Christmas Eve, said his mother Lea Ann. Cody had the ability to guess what his gifts were, she added, so the family would take extreme measures to keep Cody on his feet, design a hunting hunt and change gift labels.
“He put the magic into Christmas,” said Lea Ann, 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.