ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. (AP) – Coronavirus cases are rising rapidly among young adults in a number of states where bars, shops and restaurants have reopened – a disturbing generational shift that not only puts them at greater risk than many realize, but poses an even greater danger to older people who cross their path.
Summer brotherhood parties caused outbreaks in Oxford, Mississippi. In Oklahoma City, church activities, fitness classes, weddings, and funerals spread infections among people in their 20s, 30s, and 40s. In the university towns of Iowa, peaks followed after bars reopened. A cluster of hangouts at Louisiana State University caused at least 100 customers and employees to test positive. In East Lansing, Michigan, an outbreak related to a brew cafe spread to 34 people ages 18 to 23.
There and in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona, young people have started going out again, many without masks, in what health experts consider irresponsible.
“The virus hasn’t changed. We have changed our behavior, “said Ali Mokdad, a professor of health metrics at the University of Washington in Seattle.” Younger people are more at risk and take a risk. “
In Florida, youth ages 15 to 34 now make up 31% of all cases, up from 25% in early June. More than 8,000 new cases were reported in that age group last week, compared to about 2,000 in people aged 55 to 64 years old. And experts say the phenomenon cannot be explained as simply the result of more testing.
Elected officials, such as the governor of Florida, have argued against restraining restrictions, saying that many of the newly infected youth are young and otherwise healthy. But younger people are also faced with the possibility of serious infection and death. Last week, two 17-year-olds in Florida died of the virus.
And authorities are concerned that older, more vulnerable people are next.
“People between the ages of 18 and 50 don’t live in some kind of 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. Maybe they serve you a meal in a restaurant. ‘
The virus has taken a terrible toll on older people in the US, who cause more than 120,000 deaths worldwide and confirmed infections with more than 2.3 million worldwide. Eight out of ten deaths in the US were in people age 65 and older. In contrast, there are hundreds of coronavirus deaths among the 18- to 34-year-olds in the hundreds, although disease trackers cry out for more accurate data.
Older adults were also more often diagnosed with the virus for months. But figures from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention show that almost as soon as states reopened, the picture turned, with people ages 18 to 49 quickly becoming the age category most likely to be diagnosed with new cases.
And although each age group saw an increase in the number of cases in the first week of June, the numbers rose fastest among 18 to 49 year olds. For the week ending June 7, there were 43 new cases per 100,000 people in that age range, compared with 28 cases per 100,000 people over 65.
With the shift to younger people, some hospitals are seeing a smaller proportion of their COVID-19 patients in need of intensive care, such as respirators.
“They’re sick enough to be hospitalized, but they’re not that sick,” said Dr. Rob Phillips, chief of the Houston Methodist Hospital. He said he still finds the trend troubling because young people “certainly interact with their parents and grandparents,” who could be next.
In a Florida hospital system, nearly half of COVID-19 patients were on respirators in April, compared to less than 3 percent now, Dr. Sunil Desai, President of the Orlando Health Hospital.
Some young people who have become ill describe extreme pain and fatigue.
“My chest and my body hurt. Almost like I had a car accident, ”said Emily Ellington, 25, from a suburb of Austin, Texas, who tested positive about six weeks after the state reopened.
In Florida, where many restaurants and bars reopened in early May, 32-year-old Kristen Kowall from Clearwater had dinner with her fiancé in early June. Like others in the restaurant, she was not wearing a mask. She tested positive over the weekend.
“I feel really drowsy and tired. Walking hurts. Especially my ankles and knees, it feels like my bones are falling apart, “she said. “I would definitely recommend people to go out. It is not worth it.”
The increase among young adults may not all be due to reopenings, and may also reflect wider tests that have reached younger, less sick people. But since May, younger adults have recovered a greater proportion of the tests positive than their older counterparts.
This was not the case at the end of March and April – the highest positive figures were for people over 65. In the past month, about 7 percent of tests in 18- to 49-year-olds across the country have come back positive. That is about 2 percentage points above older adult groups.
In the midst of the wave, some Florida cities and counties require people to wear masks before entering businesses. At a Orlando bar that was popular with University of Central Florida students, the liquor license was suspended after more than 40 people who went there were tested positive upon reopening.
Florida Governor Ron DeSantis warned other bars that if they don’t follow social distance guidelines, they could lose their licenses.
“If you go in, and it’s Dance Party USA, dance to the rafters … there’s no tolerance for that,” he said.
AP journalists Meghan Hoyer in Washington, Sean Murphy in Oklahoma City, Mike Schneider in Orlando, Florida and David Pitt in Des Moines, Iowa contributed to this report. Johnson reported from Washington State.
The Associated Press Health and Science Department is supported by the Department of Science Education of the Howard Hughes Medical Institute. The AP is solely responsible for all content.
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