RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Young adults in North Carolina and across the country are accounting for a growing percentage of COVID-19 cases, a CBS17.com data analysis found.
The state Department of Health and Human Services reported Wednesday that 45 percent of the lab-confirmed cases in the state are in the 25-to-49 age group, and DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen has said a large share of new cases come from that demographic.
CBS17.com analyzed the COVID-19 data dashboards for all 50 states and found that young adults account for the largest shares of confirmed cases in 35 of the 43 states that broke down their data by age.
“We have our own kind of local epidemic, which is critically important, but most of us see national data, and there’s no doubt that national data reported suggests this shift you’re suggesting,” said Dr. Myron Cohen, an infectious disease expert at the University of North Carolina.
The total includes every state in the Southeast except Arkansas and Louisiana — which did not list those age breakdowns on their websites.
The specific age ranges vary between the states, with ages between 18 and 25 at the low end of the spectrum, and 39 to 49 years of age at the upper bound.
In California, 55.4 percent of its cases are among people aged 18 to 49 while people in that specific age group account for 51.8 percent of the cases in Georgia.
The data reinforce anecdotal evidence from across the country that recent surges across the region and country are being driven by young adults.
Texas Gov. Greg Abbott at least partly attributed his state’s spike to people under 30 “going to bars,” he said in a news conference last week. In his state, 36.5 percent of the cases involve people aged 30-49.
And in Florida, where people in the 25-44 age bracket account for 35 percent of cases, data show the weekly median age of new cases has dropped sharply — from 65 in early March to 35 in mid-June.
There are several possible explanations for the surge among young adults. It’s easier for people, including those in that age group, to be tested for COVID-19 than it was a few months ago, when a limited supply of tests left them reserved for vulnerable populations and symptomatic people.
But Myron Cohen says it’s more likely a function of behavior, specifically what he called “intimate contacts.” Young adults are more likely to have been out and about as the state relaxed some social distancing guidelines as it moved through the reopening process.
“You can’t watch your channel and not see pictures of Florida and people socializing,” he said. “We’re a social species. This is very difficult. It is not that easy to either inspire or require the risk-reduction behaviors that are appropriate to the new normal. Our new normal right now that we’re being asked to do is inconsistent with the general behavior of our species.”
But while young adults account for a growing share of the cases, they don’t factor into nearly as many deaths.
Only 5 percent of COVID-19 deaths in North Carolina are in the 25-to-49 age group while four-fifths of people to die of the disease are 65 or older, according to state data.
And according to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, only 3.7 percent of people in their 20s required hospitalization for the coronavirus between Jan. 22 and May 30. That percentage grew only slightly for people in their 30s (5.9 percent) and 40s (8.8 percent).