Younger people are driving new cases of COVID-19, putting the elderly at risk

People under 40 now make up the majority of COVID-19 cases, according to a USA TODAY analysis of data from 17 states. We found that the average age of a new person reported to have coronavirus has fallen significantly since March. 

Though we are now seeing more infections among young people, the elderly suffer more severe outcomes. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, 8 out of 10 COVID-19-related deaths reported in the U.S. have been among adults aged 65 and older. Young people may be spreading the virus to more vulnerable Americans.

COVID-19 cases vs. deaths

In Lousiana, coronavirus has already killed more than 2,000 people over 80, compared with just 14 deaths in patients under 30. As of Thursday, the number of infected people doubled in less than a week.

In Idaho, which has seen a 54% spike in cases since last week, patients between 18 and 29 account for more than a third of known cases.

In Kansas, the average age of a patient confirmed to have COVID-19 is 38, it is 79 for those who die of the infection. People under 45 make up more than a half of the new cases in Arizona, where the virus is making a comeback.

The CDC recently released a Japanese study that traced half the COVID-19 clusters in a community back to someone under the age of 40. Forty-one percent the original cases did not show symptoms at the time of transmission.

States with more cases among young people

One of the first COVID-19 cases was reported in Washington state. There, the virus took hold at a nursing home, quickly infecting the elderly. Now, the majority of cases in the state are people in their 20s and 30s. At the beginning of June, about 15% of Georgia’s new cases were 18-to 29-year-olds. A few weeks later, that number rose to 27%.

People between the ages of 25 and 49 make more than 40% of cases in Alabama, where college students are throwing COVID-19 parties: People who have coronavirus attend, and the first person to become infected receives a payout. In Leon County, home to two of the biggest universities in Florida, the median age of the infected is 25; as new cases spike, half are in the 18-24 age range.

There are many reasons that rates of reported COVID-19 cases are rising among younger people, including expanded testing capacity. Younger adults have also been more likely to return to work and to gather in person without social distancing. In a CDC survey of attitudes toward stay-at-home orders and social distancing guidelines, less than 30% of people aged 18-24 said they were consistently staying 6 feet away from other people.

According to the Japanese study, many groups of cases with a common exposure source were associated with heavy breathing in close proximity, such as singing at karaoke parties, cheering at clubs, having conversations in bars and exercising in gyms.

Young people may go out more because they are less likely to develop symptoms of COVID-19. A study published in the journal Nature Medicine suggested that only 21% of those aged 10 to 19 were likely to show symptoms compared with 69% of over-70s. The team also estimated that people under 20 are at half the risk of COVID-19 infection vs.older adults.

According to the CDC, the rate of hospitalization for people who test positive for the coronavirus in their 20s is under 4%. For those over 60, the rates go way up, to more than 20%. The fatality rate for people in their 20s and 30s without underlying health conditions is about 0.1%. That could explain why increasing daily case numbers haven’t yet translated to an equally large spike in deaths.

Although younger adults are less likely to develop severe infections of COVID-19, some do develop serious and even life-threatening complications. Last week, Dr. Anthony Fauci, the nation’s leading infectious disease expert, said that doctors and infectious disease specialists are seeing “more and more” complications with COVID-19 in young people. 

According to the Chronicle of Higher Education, which is tracking more than 860 institutions’ plans, two-thirds of colleges are planning to welcome students back in person, while only 7% are planning to hold classes only online. With young people already making the majority of COVID-19 cases, reopening of schools and colleges could create further outbreaks.

This article originally appeared on USA TODAY: Younger people are driving new cases of COVID-19, putting the elderly at risk

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