ST. PETERSBURG, Fla. – Coronavirus cases are climbing rapidly among young adults in a number of states where bars, stores and restaurants have reopened — a disturbing generational shift that not only puts them in greater peril than many realize but poses an even bigger danger to older people who cross their paths.
In Oxford, Mississippi, summer fraternity parties sparked outbreaks. In Oklahoma City, church activities, fitness classes, weddings and funerals seeded infections among people in their 20s, 30s and 40s. In Iowa college towns, surges followed the reopening of bars. A cluster of hangouts near Louisiana State University led to at least 100 customers and employees testing positive. In East Lansing, Michigan, an outbreak tied to a brew pub spread to 34 people ages 18 to 23.
There and in states like Florida, Texas and Arizona, young people have started going out again, many without masks, in what health experts see as irresponsible behavior.
“The virus hasn’t changed. We have changed our behaviors," said Ali Mokdad, professor of health metrics sciences at the University of Washington in Seattle. "Younger people are more likely to be out and taking a risk.”
In Florida, young people ages 15 to 34 now make up 31% of all cases, up from 25% in early June. Last week, more than 8,000 new cases were reported in that age group, compared with about 2,000 among people 55 to 64 years old. And experts say the phenomenon cannot be explained away as simply the result of more testing.
Elected officials such as Florida's governor have argued against reimposing restrictions, saying many of the newly infected are young and otherwise healthy. But younger people, too, face the possibility of severe infection and death. In the past week, two 17-year-olds in Florida died of the virus.
And authorities worry that older, more vulnerable people are next.
“People between the ages 18 and 50 don’t live in some sort of a bubble,” Oklahoma City Mayor David Holt said. “They are the children and grandchildren of vulnerable people. They may be standing next to you at a wedding. They might be serving you a meal in a restaurant.”