Health officials are reporting a significant rise in younger people testing positive for the new coronavirus, particularly in Southern states, raising fresh concerns about social distancing failures and fatigue as states continue to reopen businesses amid the pandemic.
Over the last week, officials in Florida, Texas, Georgia, South Carolina and North Carolina have reported an uptick in COVID-19 cases among people in their 20s and 30s. In Florida, where the total case count surpassed 100,000 on Monday, the median age for coronavirus victims went from 65 at the beginning of March to 36 last week, according to the Florida Department of Health.
Florida Gov. Ron DeSantis (R), speaking at a news conference Saturday as his state reported a record 4,049 new daily cases, called this shift “a radical direction” that’s “certainly a cause for concern.”
“Not only are they testing positive because they’re testing more, they’re also testing positive at a higher rate, increasingly over the last week,” he said of these younger individuals. “That’s evidence that there’s transmission within those communities, particularly the 20s and 30s.”
DeSantis warned that though these younger individuals are largely asymptomatic and likely won’t need medical care, they risk spreading the disease to older and more vulnerable populations. He partially blamed social distancing fatigue for the rise of cases but did not announce changes to the state’s ongoing reopening plans.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott (R), who on Monday said his state had seen an average of 3,500 new cases a day this month ― roughly double the number seen during the last half of May ― has also blamed a lack of social distancing for a rise in cases among people younger than 30.
At a news conference Thursday, he attributed this rise to activity at bars and restaurants, particularly over Memorial Day weekend, and warned that these establishments could have their licenses suspended if they don’t adhere to COVID-19 guidelines.
“There have been pictures that I have seen and others have seen about these bar-type settings where clearly the standards are not being followed,” he said.
In Houston, which was reaching its highest daily total Monday, which also included Sunday case counts, one health official credited the state’s older population for helping reduce cases.
“It is my current theory that elder persons have become more vigilant in taking precautions,” Dr. David Persse, who serves as the Houston Health Department’s public health authority, told local station KLTV.
In South Carolina, a physician consultant for the state’s Department of Health and Environmental Control also expressed concern “that younger South Carolinians are not taking social distancing seriously,” causing an uptick in cases among them.
“While it is true that most youth and younger adults with COVID-19 only experience a mild illness, that is not true for all,” Dr. Brannon Traxler said in a statement.
Dr. C. Wendell James III, the chief clinical officer for Prisma Health – Upstate in Greenville, South Carolina, stressed that younger people may believe themselves to be resistant to the disease, but it can carry far more health implications than they realize.
“It can have effects on kidneys, liver, lungs, heart ― and we don’t know how permanent that is going to be,” he told Greenville News.
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