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Younger Adults Are Increasingly Testing Positive For The Coronavirus


As much of the U.S. presses forward with reopening, a growing number of states and cities are finding the coronavirus outbreak has a foothold on a younger slice of the population. People in their 20s and 30s are now accounting for a larger share of new coronavirus infections. Here to tell us more is science reporter Will Stone.

Hi, Will.


GARCIA-NAVARRO: So tell me more specifically where we're seeing a rise in younger adults testing positive.

STONE: It's actually popping up all over the country. On the West Coast, we can look at the Seattle area. Close to half of new cases are emerging in 20- and 30-year-olds. And there's a similar trend in California with people under 35 - also in the South and Southeast.

What's difficult is counties and states have their own ways of reporting this demographic information. The age groupings vary, so we have to rely on these snapshots of different communities. But interestingly, these are places that took a range of approaches to their lockdowns, and this is happening in places that are quite different.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: Are these young people infected with the coronavirus also showing up in the hospital?

STONE: Some are. Younger adults can still get very seriously ill. But overall, the chance of being hospitalized if you're under 40 years old with COVID is really quite low, still. But the problem is younger adults can still spread the virus. And one way to think of it is we have this reservoir of disease, to quote one expert I spoke to, that's kind of simmering in this younger age group, and that can very quickly spike to uncontrollable levels.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So why is this happening?

STONE: A big piece is that there's more testing than there was several months ago. But public health experts I talked to say it's likely this is because of behavior. Younger adults receive less risk, and so they're willing to go back to work or go out to dinner or to bars and other public settings where they can catch the virus. I spoke to Dr. Joseph McCormick at UTHealth School of Public Health, who's noticed this in his community of Brownsville.

JOSEPH MCCORMICK: So I think this is relatively new, and I think it's because that segment of the population decided they are - now I'm free, whereas the older segment of the population say whoa, wait a minute. I think that, you know, I'm still in jeopardy.

STONE: And some politicians are calling out 20- and 30-year-olds for spreading the virus and not wearing masks or being more careful. I saw the mayor of St. Petersburg, Fla., even scolded millennials, saying, your generation needs to take this more seriously.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: So if the country is opening up, how do you get the message across to younger people who may not have gotten it before?

STONE: Yeah, it requires a different approach. So public health officials say you need to find a trusted spokesperson. One county commissioner in Florida told me he's trying to get the professional sports team to be part of a public awareness campaign. I spoke to Judith Malmgren about this. She's an epidemiologist at the University of Washington, and she's the one who found that cases are rising in younger adults in Seattle.

JUDITH MALMGREN: The key to controlling it so that it's not running rampant is the people who are most active and have most contact with the public. You need to use short sentences. You need to use very direct messaging.

STONE: So you need to get buy-in from young people. And the consensus is that shaming them is probably not the best approach.

GARCIA-NAVARRO: (Laughter) Probably not. That was science reporter Will Stone.

Thank you very much.

STONE: Thank you. Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.