COVID's New Demographic

Younger people are making up more of the new cases of COVID-19 as the coronavirus explodes in the Sunbelt states, particularly Arizona, California, Florida, and Texas, bringing with it new attention on bars as settings for high viral transmission.

June 29, 2020, 10:00 AM PDT

By Irvin Dawid

Social Distancing

Sharkshock / Shutterstock

"Younger people are making up a growing percentage of new coronavirus cases in cities and states where the virus is now surging, a trend that has alarmed public health officials and prompted renewed pleas for masks and social distancing," report Julie Bosman and Sarah Mervosh for The New York Times on June 25.

In Arizona, where drive-up sites are overwhelmed by people seeking coronavirus tests, people ages 20 to 44 account for nearly half of all cases. In Florida, which breaks records for new cases nearly every day, the median age of residents testing positive for the virus has dropped to 35, down from 65 in March.

In Texas, where Gov. Gregg Abbott hit the pause button on the reopening plan Thursday and closed bars on Friday, "young people now account for the majority of new cases in several urban centers," add Bosman and Mervosh.

“What is clear is that the proportion of people who are younger appears to have dramatically changed,” said Joseph McCormick, a professor of epidemiology at UTHealth School of Public Health in Brownsville. “It’s really quite disturbing.”

At the first press conference held by the White House Coronavirus Task Force in nearly two months on Friday, Vice President Mike Pence stated that "[h]alf of the new COVID-19 cases detected in recent weeks have been in adults under 35," reported Stephanie Soucheray for CIDRAP News.

The press briefing was held as America saw another record COVID-19 day, with more than 41,000 cases reported in the past 24 hours, and Florida tracking nearly 9,000 new cases.

In total the United States has 2,446,706 COVID-19 cases and 124,749 deaths, according to the tracker maintained by Johns Hopkins University.

"The new cases among young people may appear to be a departure from the early days of the pandemic when infections in nursing homes were spiraling out of control, and the virus appeared at higher rates among older people in New York City," add Bosman and Mervosh.

Focus on bars and alcohol

Along with the younger demographic comes a new focus on bars, a "congregate setting" as noted by Former Food and Drug Administration commissioner Scott Gottlieb in a related post.

"If I could go back and redo anything, it probably would have been to slow down the opening of bars, now seeing in the aftermath of how quickly the coronavirus spread in the bar setting," Gov. Gregg Abbott of Texas said during an evening interview with KVIA in El Paso, reported Patrick Svitek for The Texas Tribune on June 26.

Abbott added that the "bar setting, in reality, just doesn't work with a pandemic," noting people "go to bars to get close and to drink and to socialize, and that's the kind of thing that stokes the spread of the coronavirus." 

"Florida banned serving alcohol at bars Friday, effectively shutting them down on the same day that the state reported a record-shattering number of new coronavirus cases," reported the Orlando Sentinel.

California dials back

On Sunday, Gov. Gavin Newsom came to that same realization in dealing with outbreaks in Californiareports Jessica Yadegaran for the Bay Area News Group on June 28. Unlike his counterparts in Florida and Texas, his order was targeted to specific counties.

Bars in Fresno, Imperial, Kern, Kings, Los Angeles, San Joaquin and Tulare counties were ordered to close because they have been on the COVID-19 watch list for two weeks. Counties on the recommended list [to close bars] — including Riverside, Sacramento, San Bernardino, Santa Barbara, Stanislaus and Ventura — have been on the watch list for at least three days.

Sunday’s escalation provided the most urgent call yet to the state’s residents, a warning that scenes of bars and nightclubs packed with young people belied the strength of the virus and its danger to public health.

While the effect of the coronavirus on younger people “may not be highly associated with hospitalization and death,” Dr. Robert Redfield, Director of the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention said at Friday's task force news conference held at the Department of Health and Humans Services, "they do act as a transmission connector for individuals that could in fact be at a higher risk."

While mostly observed in the U.S., the trend has been observed in Israel and Portugal as they reopen, and is being monitored by the World Health Organization, reports Peter Beaumont for The Guardian on June 26.

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