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Recklessness or reopening: Why are more young people getting coronavirus?

Nico Savidge and Leonardo Castañeda, The Mercury News on

Published in Health & Fitness

A surge of coronavirus cases among young people is leading to a generational blame game as California and other states grapple with a second wave of the virus.

Reports of outbreaks across the country tied to fraternity houses and college-town bars have helped fuel a perception that people in their teens and 20s -- who are far less likely to die from COVID-19 but can still suffer debilitating bouts of the virus or pass it along to others who are more vulnerable -- have thrown caution to the wind because they don't feel threatened by it.

A long list of other factors may also be at play in the increase, however.

"I see plenty of irresponsibility going on across the age spectrum as we have opened up," said Dr. Kirsten Bibbins-Domingo, chair of the University of California San Francisco's Department of Epidemiology and Biostatistics. "I don't think it's helpful to demonize one group or another."

An analysis released last week found 44% of new coronavirus cases in California were among people 34 or younger, compared to 29% a month ago. Meanwhile, the analysis of California Department of Public Health data, conducted by infectious disease epidemiologist George Lemp, found the share of cases from people over 50 was dropping.

At a press conference Friday, Gov. Gavin Newsom said the state is seeing an alarming increase in coronavirus cases among people under 35, which he called "that age cohort that believes in many cases that they are invincible, and they are somehow immune from the impacts of COVID-19."

 

But the increase tracks with what Bibbins-Domingo said she expected as more businesses reopened.

During that process, she noted that government and public health officials told people at higher risk from coronavirus -- particularly those who are older -- that they should still stay at home to avoid infection. Younger people at lower risk, meanwhile, were given the OK to go out again, making it more likely they would catch the virus.

Now, after seeing a massive increase in new coronavirus cases last week, states and counties are rethinking their reopening plans.

"The age doesn't concern me as much as the big rise in cases," Bibbins-Domingo said.

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