CORONAVIRUS

Severity of coronavirus cases in Spain falls as infections spread through younger people

The percentage of patients requiring hospitalization has fallen from 25% to 8% in two months, while the average age of those infected has dropped from 60 to around 50

Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, during a press conference on Thursday.
Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts, during a press conference on Thursday.Luca Piergiovanni / EFE

The severity of coronavirus cases that are being detected in Spain is falling in step with the average age of those being infected. Two months ago, nearly one in every four positive cases – 23 to 24% – required hospitalization, but now that figure has fallen to 8%, which is less than one in every 10.

The explanation can be found in the profile of the new infections: they are increasingly young. At the beginning of May, the average age of detected cases was over 60. New cases currently are being found at an average age of 47 in men, and 50 in women. “Now they are milder because the vulnerable groups are more protected,” explained Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts (CCAES), speaking on Thursday evening.

Among the cases detected in recent days, 56 were imported – i.e. from travelers who had arrived from outside of Spain

The less serious nature of the cases can also be seen in the percentage of patients whose condition worsens, and who have to be admitted to intensive care units. Two months ago this figure was at 3.5 to 4%, but now it is as low as 1.5 to 2%, according to the latest data supplied by Simón on Thursday evening.

The majority of new infections are being detected among “healthy and young” people who are of working age, he added. The most vulnerable part of the population, seniors and those with pre-existing conditions, are likely taking more care and are less exposed to infection.

Despite the fact that new infections are being detected in practically all of Spain’s regions, Simón explained that “uncontrolled” community transmission is falling “week by week” in Spain. He added that last week the trend for new infections rose slightly due to new outbreaks detected in three provinces, but that “it appears that this trend is reversing.” Efforts to detect cases in these three outbreaks helped to achieve this, with testing revealing a number of asymptomatic carriers of the coronavirus.

The daily report on the pandemic from the Health Ministry released on Thursday shows that there were 297 new cases with symptoms detected in the last week, and 134 cases diagnosed on Wednesday – many of them asymptomatic. Simón pointed out that more than 60% of new cases detected are asymptomatic, which is a positive indicator, given that it shows that the detection of infections from identified cases is rising. Five new coronavirus-related deaths were registered in the previous 24 hours, according to Thursday’s report, bringing the official death toll from the pandemic in Spain to 28,368.

I think that we are doing a very good job of detecting cases but we know that we are not detecting 100% of them
Fernando Simón, the director of the Health Ministry’s Coordination Center for Health Alerts

Among the cases detected in recent days, 56 were imported – i.e. from travelers who had arrived from outside of Spain. These cases, combined with those from declared outbreaks, explain a good part of the new infections, but not all of them. For example, they do not explain what has happened in the Madrid region, which is yet to report any new outbreaks in its territory despite being, along with Catalonia, the area that is diagnosing the most cases. In recent days, it has reported between 25 and 40 cases detected the day before, with a total of 335 in the last seven days.

Asked by journalists about Madrid, Simón described the situation in that region and in Barcelona as a “little strange,” given that they were not reporting new outbreaks despite having such large populations. Could this mean that Madrid is not detecting them? “Just as any other region could not be,” he replied. “I think that we are doing a very good job of detecting cases but we know that we are not detecting 100% of them,” Simón added.

There are currently 58 outbreaks in Spain that have been detected, but the majority are perfectly under control and will mostly be brought under control in the coming days, Simón explained. Of greatest concern, he continued, are those in Huesca “given the scale and the type of population affected,” and those in Lleida. The CCAES director added that in these cases, it’s “better to overreact than to come up short.”

English version by Simon Hunter.

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