Young adults now driving force behind the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic says CDC

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) has released a report stating that the ongoing COVID-19 pandemic caused by the severe acute respiratory syndrome coronavirus 2 (SARS-CoV-2) is on the rise among young adults and this rise is preventing the pandemic from abating.

The pandemic

The pandemic was declared on 11 March this year and since then has brought the world to a stand-still. Government advisories worldwide have urged people to stay indoors to break the chain of transmission of this highly infectious virus. The infection is generally less dangerous for youngsters, and age remains one of the significant factors associated with hospitalization and death due to COVID-19 disease. Over 995,000 people have already died due to the infection around the world.

Weekly median age of persons with COVID-19–like illness-related emergency department (ED) visits,* positive SARS-CoV-2 reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test results,† and confirmed COVID-19 cases,§ and of persons for whom all SARS-CoV-2 RT-PR tests were conducted,¶ by U.S. Census region** — United States May 3–August 29, 2020
The weekly median age of persons with COVID-19–like illness-related emergency department (ED) visits, positive SARS-CoV-2 reverse transcription–polymerase chain reaction (RT-PCR) test results, and confirmed COVID-19 cases,§ and of persons for whom all SARS-CoV-2 RT-PR tests were conducted, by U.S. Census region — United States May 3–August 29, 2020

Irresponsible behavior

Despite government and scientific advisories asking people to stay indoors and avoid being in crowded places, young adults continue to visit bars, eateries, and beaches. One of the best bets in preventing the infection is physical distancing of around 6 feet, wearing masks, and adequate hand hygiene. Youngsters have been socializing and disregarding these pointers over the summer around college campuses, and the infection thus remains unstoppable, says the CDC. The CDC report states that more than one in five cases of COVID-19 is among adults aged between 20 and 29 years.

Dr. Amesh Adalja, an infectious disease expert at the Johns Hopkins University Center for Health Security, explained that these findings are not surprising. He said in a statement, “We have seen the changing demographic in the infections, and it’s not just because we have the ability to test young people... But younger people are much more likely to be risk-tolerant.” They are more likely to take risks, he added.

Waves of infections

There are waves or surges in the number of cases of the infection in the United States. These waves are a result of a fresh rise in the number of infections. The new waves of infections among the middle-aged and older adults may have come from the young adults, finds new research from CDC.

These waves of infections often have originated among young adults who have flocked to parties, bars, or have shared space in dormitories or crowded places. While their infections are commonly mild and self remitting, it is the older adults who get the infection from the youngsters who are at risk.

Dr. Tom Inglesby, director of the Center for Health Security at Johns Hopkins Bloomberg School of Public Health, said in his statement, “This is what we worried would happen if young adults started regathering in higher numbers.” He added, “We need to turn this around... Leaders need to communicate better with younger people how essential they are in keeping this epidemic under control.” At present advisories ask the elderly to stay indoors and allow the young people to step out. This “will not work,” said Inglesby. Dr. Inglesby reminded, “The young and the old are all connected in our world.”

The CDC report

All the cases of COVID-19 were included from 50 states and the District of Columbia between May and August this year for the report. High incidences of cases were seen in adults aged between 20 and 29. When there were spikes in cases among these adults, there was also a significant rise in cases among older adults over 60 years, the report said. This was particularly true in the south.

In certain states such as Alabama, Florida and Georgia, a rise in cases among those aged between 20 and 39 years was followed by a rise in cases among those aged between 40 and 59 years within nine days and those aged over 60 years within 15 days, the researchers noted. This second spike within days was a result of infection among the youngsters, says the report.

The report concluded, “Strict adherence to community mitigation strategies and personal preventive behaviors by younger adults is needed.”

College campuses

One of the hotbeds of infections is college campuses. In the 1,200 campuses around the country, there have been 88,000 SARS-CoV-2 infections, says one of the databases.

According to Dr. Anthony S. Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, who was speaking at a congressional hearing this week, it was not correct to send home students from college campuses that have seen outbreaks of cases. He said, “colleges should be able to accommodate the students in a facility, maybe a separate dorm or a separate floor, so they don’t spread among the student body. “ Sending them home would take the infection home and to the community, he explained. He said, “But do not send them home to their community because of the likelihood of them bringing infection in the community.”

Studies are also looking at spikes in cases as colleges opened. Martin Andersen, one of the authors of the CDC report, health economist and Assistant professor at the University of North Carolina at Greensboro, stated, “We only saw that happening where the college opened for primarily in-person teaching.”

Occupational hazard

Not all youngsters are getting the infection from partying or attending college, says the report. Quite a substantial number of the young population is working in the retail stores, food service industries, child care centers, public transport, etc. These individuals may be at risk of contracting the infection from their regular contacts, say experts.

Social connections just as necessary

Julia L. Marcus, an assistant professor of population medicine at Harvard Medical School, said that young people need to find alternatives to stay connected socially for their well being. She said they need not be demonized for the choices they are making. “We can’t let moral outrage about partying distract us from addressing the occupational and household risks that continue to drive this pandemic,” she said.

Expert advice

Tegan K. Boehmer, an epidemiologist and the lead author of the CDC report said, “My message to younger adults is to understand that they may play a role in the transmission of Covid-19 to family and friends and others in their communities, and they play an important role in our ability to contain the pandemic.” He added, “There’s the possibility that they’re unknowingly transmitting Covid to others during this pre-symptomatic or asymptomatic state.”

Journal reference:
Dr. Ananya Mandal

Written by

Dr. Ananya Mandal

Dr. Ananya Mandal is a doctor by profession, lecturer by vocation and a medical writer by passion. She specialized in Clinical Pharmacology after her bachelor's (MBBS). For her, health communication is not just writing complicated reviews for professionals but making medical knowledge understandable and available to the general public as well.


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