Surge in Younger Covid-19 Infections Could Worsen the Pandemic

Scientists aren’t exactly sure why, but the consequences could be significant

Robert Roy Britt
Elemental
Published in
5 min readJun 26, 2020

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Friends chat as they relax on South Beach in Miami Beach, FL on Friday, June 19, 2020. Photo: The Washington Post/Getty Images

While new U.S. cases of Covid-19 spike to record highs, a worrying trend is emerging: Diagnosed infections are soaring among younger people, with the majority of new cases in several regions now being seen among people under age 50, with significant increases among teens and young adults.

Without new or renewed efforts to control the spread of the coronavirus, the skew to younger carriers will likely initially cause the death rate to fall, since the virus is deadlier for older people, explains Thomas Tsai, MD, a surgeon and health policy researcher at Brigham and Women’s Hospital in Boston. But the overall rising number of infections will likely drive the daily death toll back up again eventually, due to sheer numbers of infections.

The trend could cause the pandemic to get even worse this fall, Tsai and other health experts say.

Nationwide data on Covid-19 cases by age group is complex, buried in reports from the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, and it’s currently only through the end of May. Tsai, also a researcher at Harvard T.H. Chan School of Public Health, has pawed through that data and has a preliminary bead on what’s happening.

“There is definitely a shift to the younger groups,” he tells Elemental. “That’s becoming more evident across states and nationally as well.”

Examples of the trend are found in some state and local data:

Arizona: Through March 30, 40% of cases were among people under age 45. That cumulative figure has grown to 60% today, according to the state health department. Cumulative cases among teens and children rose from under 3% to 11% during the same time period, while among people over age 65 it fell from 24% then to 13% now.

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Robert Roy Britt
Elemental

Editor of Aha! and Wise & Well on Medium + the Writer's Guide at writersguide.substack.com. Author of Make Sleep Your Superpower: amazon.com/dp/B0BJBYFQCB