April 1, 2020 / BY JEFFREY KLUGER
Of all of the new terms we’ve had to get accustomed to in the era of COVID-19, few are as powerful—and yet as vague—as “underlying conditions.” If you’re young and you don’t have them, you feel invincible. If you’re old and you do, you feel like a sitting duck for the coronavirus.
Death and hospitalization tolls in both Wuhan, China and across Italy had already shown that the most at-risk population is people over 65 with one of a whole range of underlying ills, including cardiovascular disease, chronic lung disease, immunosuppression, diabetes, chronic liver or kidney disease and more. But the extent of the list was always unclear and the exact danger they present was unknown.
Now, in a new study published in the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention’s (CDC) Morbidity and Mortality Weekly Report, researchers have put some statistical meat on those bones, looking closely at a sample group of U.S. patients with COVID-19 whose underlying health status was known and whose disease progression was tracked. The team worked with numbers available as of March 28, when there were 122,653 diagnosed COVID-19 cases in the U.S. Of those, the researchers had complete data on just 7,162, or only 5.8% of the total case count. Still a sample size of 7,162 is pretty robust, and the conclusions the researchers reached were both clear and, in some respects, reassuring.