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Why are so many young adults in the Bay Area catching coronavirus?


SANTA CRUZ, Calif. (KRON) — Why are so many people in their 20s catching the coronavirus?

The Oxford Police Department in Ohio released body camera video showing a college student house party that included people who had recently tested positive. Instead of quarantining in isolation, the student thought it was OK to let friends gather at his house because, they “all had COVID.” 

The COVID-19 party people fall into an age demographic that, here in the San Francisco Bay Area, has been the most problematic group for spreading the virus during the pandemic.

Taking a close look at COVID-19 cases for the counties of San Francisco, Alameda, Contra Costa, and Santa Cruz, the largest numbers and highest rates of people who have become infected with coronavirus are between the ages of 18-30.

Alameda County

Santa Cruz County Deputy Health Officer Dr. David Ghilarducci explained the main reasons why this age group has a high number of COVID infections.

“Like anything in this pandemic, there are usually a lot of reasons. I can list four main reasons why this is happening. The first one is testing. Testing capacity has increased,” Ghilarducci said.

“The other thing we are seeing too is, there is an emotional, psychological component here. This age group has a perception of reduced personal risk and downplay the consequences of potential infections. They are also having a higher psychological toll associated with isolation. This is a group that is used to being with their friends, socializing in bars, and house parties and gatherings. So maybe in their minds they are making a tradeoff analysis saying the risk of infection to me it outweighed by my need to be close to my friends,” he said.

“The third reason is there has been some really inconsistent messaging of policing on mandatory masking, social distancing. The rapid re-opening we saw in the summer which really backfired on us across the country. A little bit in California, but I’m speaking about the nation as a whole. This failure of consistent messaging has made some people believe that it’s not as dangerous as it really is,” Ghilarducci said.

Contra Costa County

“Finally, I don’t want to demonize this group. We have to recognize that most of the people in this age group are essential workers. They are out there serving meals in our restaurants, they are working in grocery stores, they are having more contact with the public than most of us need to have. I was thinking about most of my EMTs and paramedics and firefighters and a lot of them fall in this age group. They are out there doing important emergency work and potentially getting exposed. This is an age group, where, unlike myself where I can largely work in front of a computer, their jobs entail contact with other people. Those four factors really help explain it,” he said.

No one in this age group in Santa Cruz County has died from COVID-19. Like the rest of the Bay Area, the majority of cases that turn fatal happen to people who are older than 70.

Ghilarducci said, “But there are quite a few cases of younger people who get infected who have no co-morbidities and (develop) a longstanding disability to the injury to their lungs. There may be some permanent consequences from these infections that are under-appreciated by this group. On top of that, the prevalence of vaping in this group, which can increase the risk of injury from this, and of course the fire smoke in the air that we have been experiencing, all puts additional load and causes more injury to our respiratory systems.”

If Ghilarducci could send a message to the 18-to-30-year-olds, he would say:

“I’ll tell them what I tell my son. He is a sophomore in college now staying with us right now. There is a good chance that it’s not going to be serious for you. But for the people that you love, who you are around, this could be serious consequences. He knows, and many people know if they really think about it, they don’t want to cause their family members to get sick and to have to live with that could be devastating.”

In one Santa Cruz County case, a daughter became extremely distraught after one of her parents died from COVID-19. Health officials concluded: She likely infected her parent.

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