COVID-19 Cases Climbing: Why Are Virginia’s Young Adults Getting Sick?

By Dogwood Staff

October 20, 2020

While overall virus numbers remain stable, more young adults are getting infected.

RICHMOND-On Monday, the number of new COVID-19 cases dropped to a two-week low of 690. But while the overall virus numbers look good for Virginia, there is one concerning part. As of this past week, adults age 20 to 29 accounted for 21.4 percent of the state’s COVID-19 cases. 

It breaks the myth held by some that the virus only targets the elderly or those with health conditions. In fact, many of the infected members of this group had no pre-existing issues. So why are younger Virginians making up nearly one fourth of the state’s cases? The reasons vary widely, depending on who you ask. 

Caroline Holsinger, DrPH, CPH director of the division of surveillance and investigation for the Virginia Department of Health believes changes in behavior played a part. This includes things like a return to college and increased social activities. Once out of quarantine, these young adults visited restaurants and bars. Also, they went back to work. 

“Younger adults are more likely to be in frontline occupations like retail, childcare, restaurants, food service and [the] entertainment field,” Holsinger said. [This makes] them more vulnerable to transmission as well as more exposed to a larger number of people.” 

“Add to these factors, the general rule that this age group is less likely to follow CDC guidelines,” she admonishes, “This is not specific to Virginia.” 

In fact, a look at CDC data shows that between June and August, this age group accounted for more than 20% of all confirmed cases in the US. 

‘Most of us don’t care’ 

The infection rate is also climbing because people aren’t taking the virus seriously. 

“I mean…most of us don’t care,” said Benji Tran, an Arlington resident from the Courthouse neighborhood. “We’re in our prime. That’s infected, not dead so…. I think that’s an easy question answer.”

The problems aren’t just physical. A Blue Cross Blue Shield study called “Millennial Health Trends in Behavioral Conditions” found the ongoing pandemic has had a larger negative health impact on the millennial age group compared to their Baby Boomer peers. In its recent survey, 92 percent of millennials said the COVID-19 pandemic has negatively impacted their mental health, compared to 70 percent among Baby Boomers. Additionally, this survey found 80 percent of millennials believe their mental health impacts their physical health, compared to 62 percent of Baby Boomers.

The report analyzed a data sample of 55 million commercially insured Blue Cross and Blue Shield (BCBS) members who belong to the millennial age group, defined as people ages 22-37 in 2018, based on the definition developed by Pew Research Center, and provides an update to the initial report on the Health of Millennials published last year.

Simple and consistent behavior is best

Despite any reasons to the contrary, prevention is still the most important action to practice as a way of protecting the full population.

Since Holsinger holds a PhD in public health and epidemiology, her reminder that simple, personal preventive behavior goes a long way in reducing transmission of this illness is well-informed.

“Remaining at least six feet away from others, washing your hands frequently, staying home as much as possible, and avoiding high-touch situations involving contact with many people are the best ways to avoid contracting and then transmitting this disease,” she said.

Jackie Fishman is a freelance reporter for Dogwood.

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