As states across the nation continue reopening, and life during the coronavirus pandemic takes on yet another new normal, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention is sharing new updates this week about its response to COVID-19 as a rates of infection continue to rise in young people.
In only their second briefing with reporters since March, the CDC shared Thursday that young people are not immune from infection or hospitalization due to COVID-19.
“We know that risk is a continuum — it’s not just the risk of those ages 65 and older,” said Dr. Robert Redfield, director of the CDC.
As new coronavirus cases across the U.S. continue to soar, and intensive care units approach full capacity in some states, the CDC says it’s seeing a greater proportion of young people testing positive—specifically in Florida and other southern states where social distancing measures have not been as heavily enforced.
Dr. Jay C. Butler, the CDC’s deputy director of infectious diseases and the organization’s COVID-19 response incident manager said there is “not an exact cut off of age at which people should or should not be concerned.”
Increasing evidence has shown that those with certain underlying conditions including cardiovascular disease, type II diabetes, and obesity are at higher risk for hospitalization or death—even below the age of 50. But in a CDC update, the agency said that “people of any age” with certain, newly added, underlying conditions could be at an increased risk of severe illness.
“Some of these conditions include other chronic lung conditions such as moderate to severe asthma, cystic fibrosis, high blood pressure a weakened immune system… another is neurologic conditions such as dementia or history of stroke, liver disease and pregnancy,” said Butler.
“We can’t lose sight of the fact that this pandemic is caused by a new virus that was totally unknown to us just a year ago,” Redfield said. “We will continue to refine guidelines on how we can best reduce the risk of infection based on data and science.”
Redfield added that he believes a combination of increased testing and a clearer understanding of symptoms has led to higher numbers of infections among young people—individuals who, he says, were not being diagnosed early on.
“Our best estimate right now is that for every case that was reported, there actually were ten other infections,” he said of evidence obtained using antibody testing.
He added that early on, the CDC “didn’t really aggressively pursue diagnostics in young, asymptomatic individuals,” and that there’s a chance that what’s happening now “was occurring and just unrecognized.”
Still, whether the rise in cases among young people is new, or merely a result of increased testing and contact tracing, both experts agree, it’s critical that we remain vigilant.
“[Get] the message out that young people are not somehow naturally immune to this virus,” said Butler. “Although they may be at lower risk of death or severe infection [that] doesn’t mean that they are completely unable to become infected or to transmit it to others.”
Their warning is increasingly urgent as Fourth of July weekend approaches. Drawing from what we saw nationwide over Memorial Day weekend, experts are concerned that people are more likely to congregate in large groups, and get soft about social distancing measures.
In the weeks following Memorial Day, more than a dozen states recorded their highest numbers of new coronavirus cases since the pandemic began. Those numbers have only increased since. Arizona saw a 49 percent increase in hospitalizations in the week that followed Memorial Day, while Arkansas reported an 88 percent increase in hospitalizations.
Redfield stressed that the CDC’s guidance for staying safe remains the same—social distancing, frequent hand washing, social distancing, and properly wearing a face covering—especially when you’re unable to social distance.