New in­fec­tions shift to young adults

Ex­perts say uptick can­not be ex­plained away as more test­ing

Orlando Sentinel - - News - By Carla K. John­son and Tamara Lush

ST. PETERS­BURG, Fla. — Coron­avirus cases are climb­ing rapidly among young adults in a num­ber of states where bars, stores and restau­rants have re­opened — a dis­turb­ing gen­er­a­tional shift that not only puts them in greater peril than many re­al­ize but poses an even big­ger dan­ger to older peo­ple who cross their paths.

In Ox­ford, Mis­sis­sippi, sum­mer fra­ter­nity par­ties sparked out­breaks. In Ok­la­homa City, church ac­tiv­i­ties, fit­ness classes, wed­dings and fu­ner­als seeded in­fec­tions among peo­ple in their 20s, 30s and 40s. In Iowa col­lege towns, surges fol­lowed the re­open­ing of bars. A clus­ter of hang­outs near Louisiana State Uni­ver­sity led to at least 100 cus­tomers and em­ploy­ees test­ing pos­i­tive. In East Lans­ing, Michi­gan, an out­break tied to a brew pub spread to 25 peo­ple ages 18 to 23.

There and in states like Ari­zona, Florida and Texas, young peo­ple have started go­ing out again, many with­out masks, in what health ex­perts see as ir­re­spon­si­ble be­hav­ior.

“The virus hasn’t changed. We have changed our be­hav­iors,” said Ali Mok­dad, pro­fes­sor of health met­rics sciences at the Uni­ver­sity of Wash­ing­ton in Seat­tle. “Younger peo­ple are more likely to be out and tak­ing a risk.”

In Florida, young peo­ple ages 15 to 34 now make up 31% of all cases, up from 25% in early June. Last week, more than 8,000 new cases were re­ported in that age group, com­pared with about 2,000 among peo­ple 55 to 64 years old. And ex­perts say the phe­nom­e­non can­not be ex­plained away as sim­ply the re­sult of more test­ing.

Elected of­fi­cials such as Florida Gov. Ron DeSan­tis have ar­gued against reim­pos­ing re­stric­tions, say­ing many of the newly in­fected are young and oth­er­wise healthy. But younger peo­ple, too, face the pos­si­bil­ity of se­vere in­fec­tion and death. And au­thor­i­ties worry that older, more vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple are next.

“Peo­ple be­tween the ages 18 and 50 don’t live in some sort of a bub­ble,” said Ok­la­homa City Mayor David Holt. “They are the chil­dren and grand­chil­dren of vul­ner­a­ble peo­ple. They may be stand­ing next to you at a wed­ding. They might be serv­ing you a meal in a restau­rant.”

The virus has taken a fright­ful toll on the el­derly in the U.S., which leads the world in to­tal deaths, at over 121,000, and con­firmed in­fec­tions, at more than 2.3 mil­lion. Eight out of 10 deaths in the U.S. have been in peo­ple 65 and older. In con­trast, con­firmed coron­avirus deaths among peo­ple 18 to 34 num­ber in the hun­dreds, though dis­ease track­ers are clam­or­ing for more ac­cu­rate data.

For months, el­derly peo­ple were more likely to be diagnosed with the virus. But fig­ures from the Cen­ters for Dis­ease Con­trol and Preven­tion show that al­most as soon as states be­gan re­open­ing, the pic­ture flipped, with peo­ple 18 to 49 years old quickly be­com­ing the age bracket most likely to be diagnosed with new cases.

And al­though ev­ery age group saw an in­crease in cases dur­ing the first week in June, the num­bers shot up fastest among 18-to-49year-olds. For the week end­ing June 7, there were 43 new cases per 100,000 peo­ple in that age bracket, com­pared with 28 cases per 100,000 peo­ple over 65.

With the shift to­ward younger peo­ple, some hos­pi­tals are see­ing a smaller share of their COVID-19 pa­tients need­ing in­ten­sive care treat­ment such as breath­ing machines.

“They are sick enough to be hospi­tal­ized, but they’re not quite as sick,” said Dr. Rob Phillips, chief physi­cian ex­ec­u­tive of Hous­ton Methodist Hos­pi­tal. He said he still finds the trend dis­turb­ing be­cause young peo­ple “def­i­nitely in­ter­act with their par­ents and grand­par­ents,” who could be next.

In one Florida hos­pi­tal sys­tem, nearly half the COVID-19 pa­tients were on ven­ti­la­tors dur­ing April com­pared with less than 3 per­cent now, said Dr. Su­nil De­sai, pres­i­dent of the Or­lando Health hos­pi­tal sys­tem.

Some of the young peo­ple who have fallen ill de­scribe stretches of ex­treme pain and fa­tigue.

“My chest and my body hurt. Al­most like I’d got­ten in a car ac­ci­dent,” said Emily Elling­ton, 25, of sub­ur­ban Austin, Texas, who tested pos­i­tive about six weeks af­ter the state be­gan re­open­ing.

In Florida, Kris­ten Kowall, 32, of Clear­wa­ter, dined out with her fi­ancé in early June. Like oth­ers in the restau­rant, she didn’t wear a mask.

She tested the week­end.

“I just feel re­ally groggy and tired. It hurts to walk. Es­pe­cially my an­kles and knees, it feels like my bones are go­ing to fall apart,” she said.

Since May, younger adults have had a higher share of tests come back pos­i­tive than their older coun­ter­parts.

In late March and April, that wasn’t the case — the high­est pos­i­tive rates were

pos­i­tive over in peo­ple over 65. For the past month, roughly 7 per­cent of tests done on 18to-49-year-olds na­tion­wide have come back pos­i­tive. That is about 2 per­cent­age points above older groups of adults.

Amid the surge, some Florida cities and coun­ties are re­quir­ing peo­ple to wear masks be­fore en­ter­ing busi­nesses.

An Or­lando bar pop­u­lar with Uni­ver­sity of Cen­tral Florida stu­dents had its liquor li­cense sus­pended af­ter more than 40 peo­ple who went there tested pos­i­tive.

DeSan­tis warned other bars they could lose their li­censes if they don’t fol­low so­cial dis­tanc­ing guide­lines.

“If you go in, and it’s Dance Party USA, danc­ing up to the rafters there’s no tol­er­ance for that,” he said.

ERIC GAY/AP

Vis­i­tors to Six Flag Fi­esta Texas pass through a ther­mal screen­ing area as they en­ter the park as a pre­cau­tion against COVID-19 last week in San An­to­nio.

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