COVID-19 has shown to be devastating to the elderly and people with health conditions such as diabetes and hypertension. The coronavirus also spreads easily in congregate settings such as assisted living facilities. The first known outbreak in the United States was at a nursing home in Kirkland, and with roughly half the state’s deaths still in people 80 or older, much attention has rightly been paid to preventing older people from getting sick.
But, health experts warn, that might be leading to complacency among young people.
Most of the recent infections in King County have been among people younger than 40. Some of those patients do get severely ill; some die. And a young person who contracts the virus but doesn’t develop symptoms could unwittingly pass the virus to vulnerable people around them.
In this week’s Coronavirus FAQ Friday, we’re answering readers’ common questions about COVID-19 as it relates to young people and social activities. To see last week’s FAQ, about coronavirus testing, visit st.news/testing-faq.
If I’m young and healthy, do I really need to worry about the virus?
Yes. Young, healthy people can and do contract the coronavirus.
While the symptoms might not be as severe for you, that’s not guaranteed. Recent CDC research shows recovering from even a mild case of COVID-19, even for otherwise healthy young adults, can take weeks.
On Wednesday, a 2019 Puyallup High School graduate and former student-athlete died from COVID-19 complications.
People younger than 40 now make up the majority of the state’s COVID-19 cases, with 39% in people aged 20-39 (the largest share of cases for any age group) and 12% in people 19 or younger.
Still, almost everyone who is hospitalized or dies due to COVID-19 in Washington state is older than 40. But trends in hospitalizations are worth keeping an eye on. In King County, at the end of July, the average COVID-19 hospital patient was about 46 years old, down from about 80 early in the pandemic, according to Dr. Jeff Duchin, the health officer for Public Health — Seattle & King County.
One of the most important reasons for younger people to limit contact with others, wear masks and stay at least six feet apart is so they don’t contract the virus and spread it to older and more vulnerable people.
“We need to protect those people who are most at risk, like our elderly family members, the Black and Latinx communities, and people who have underlying medical conditions,” said Lisa Brandenburg, president of UW Medicine Hospitals & Clinics.
Younger people also make up the bulk of workers in service jobs, which put them in contact with more people and provide the virus an opportunity to spread. Nearly two-thirds of restaurant workers are 34 or younger, as are nearly half of grocery store employees, according to data from the U.S. Bureau of Labor Statistics.
“Regardless of our age or personal health status, we are highly interdependent and interconnected,” Dr. Duchin said. “Our success moving forward as a community depends on the ability of every sector of our society to decrease COVID-19 transmission. We all have to pull our weight.”
What social activities have created the most cases of COVID-19? As we try to limit exposure to the coronavirus, what should we avoid?
Problems don’t arise so much from specific activities as they do from the circumstances surrounding a given activity.
The mantra from public health officials is that outdoors is better than indoors. Small gatherings are better than large gatherings. Wear a mask whenever you must be in an enclosed space, or whenever you’re near other people. And it doesn’t hurt to mask up while exercising.
In a recent interview, Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institutes of Health’s National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases, said places like bars where people congregate should be avoided.
Large gatherings are partly driving the increasing cases in Washington and should be avoided, according to post on the state Department of Health’s Public Health Connection blog.
“Larger social gatherings are one big reason we’re seeing high rates of COVID-19 activity throughout the state,” the post read. “Every time we’re around others talking, laughing, or singing, we risk catching the virus from someone’s breath.”