The coronavirus is tearing into a new demographic as states relax social distancing guidelines.
Younger Americans have gone back to work in the service industry and congregating in public, and their activity seems to be bearing out ominous predictions from public health experts, reported The Daily Beast.
“Watch what’s happening before and after the peak,” said epidemiologist Dr. Judith Malmgren, of the University of Washington’s school of public health. “The disease didn’t change, but the people who were infected changed.”
Washington state was the nation’s first hot spot, and half of new daily infections in early May were found in people under 40 years old, a dramatic increase from eight weeks earlier.
Malmgren and her team’s research found that cases peaked March 22 in Washington and then declined for a few weeks before plateauing at an average of about 200 cases a day.
Their analysis found that 39 percent of confirmed cases in the state were among those 20-39 years old, and another 11 percent of cases were among those under 19.
Younger, otherwise healthy COVID-19 patients are less likely to suffer serious complications from the infection, but they can still suffer lifelong health problems after getting sick.
“In eight weeks, our demographic slipped from majority over age 60 to majority under age 40,” Malmgren told The Daily Beast. “As the epidemic got under control and people over 60 followed pretty strict social distancing and guidelines, the infection rate went down in that portion of the population. But we didn’t have the same messaging — had no messaging, basically — to young people that there’s a danger to you.”
Gradual reopenings around the U.S. created a “delusion of normalcy,” said pandemic expert Dr. Irwin Redlener, but the risk remains high and any spike in cases tends to show up weeks later.
“If what’s happening in Washington becomes true nationally, we have a problem,” said Redlener, director of the National Center for Disaster Preparedness at Columbia University. “Every state and the federal government need to be following this very, very closely.”