State numbers show rapid increase in COVID cases among 18-to-24-year-olds

North Carolina news

RALEIGH, N.C. (WNCN) — Nearly one-third of the new COVID-19 cases reported in North Carolina during the past week were between 18 and 24 years old, a CBS17.com data analysis found.

With area colleges announcing clusters on their campuses on an almost daily basis, CBS17.com analyzed the Department of Health and Human Services’ daily updates to its demographic breakdown of the state’s new cases to put into perspective how quickly the virus is spreading among the youngest adults — those of college age and slightly older.

“We knew that this was going to be something we needed to watch very closely,” DHHS Secretary Dr. Mandy Cohen said.

Those aged 18-24 account for 23,711 of the 157,741 total cases — or, 15 percent — since the start of the pandemic in March, according to the agency’s most recent update Tuesday. 

But a closer look at the numbers illustrates how that percentage has grown recently.

That share of cases among all age groups has grown by a full percentage point from 14 percent — a significant change because of how large the total number of cases has become.

From Aug. 18 until Tuesday, the state added 10,962 new cases of COVID-19, with more than 3,000 of them in the 18-24 age bracket. 

And during that time, the number of cases involving people in that age group increased by 15 percent — while the cumulative total for those younger than 18 and older than 24 increased by just 6 percent.

And while nursing homes have been particular hot spots for COVID-19 throughout the pandemic — with a more vulnerable population living in relatively close quarters — the growth of cases over the past week in that age demographic appears to be slower by comparison: For those older than 65 years old, the number of cases increased by about 5 percent.

The trend among the youngest adults extends to the beginning of the month.

Over the past three weeks, the number of cases associated with people aged 18-24 increased by more than 30 percent while the total for all other age groups rose by slightly over 20 percent.

The past few weeks have been marked by clusters of COVID-19 popping up at colleges and universities across the state.

“And I think what we have been trying to do is make sure that we are understanding what are the drivers of that spread,” Cohen said. “And what we are seeing is that spread of virus is in social gatherings, parties, particularly ones that are off campus, as well as housing that is off campus.

“What that shows us is that, ‘Look, off-campus in particular is still subject to our executive orders, those that should be limiting gatherings and requiring face coverings,” she added. “Those are the things that really need to be part of the actions that everyone is taking.”

The two largest schools in the University of North Carolina system — UNC Chapel Hill and North Carolina State University — both initially opened their campuses for in-person classes, only to suspend them and switch their undergraduates to online instruction after several clusters were reported at the two institutions, either in fraternity or sorority houses or residence halls. 

According to UNC’s online dashboard, more than 32 percent of students who were tested from Aug. 17-23 were found to have the virus, and they accounted for 505 positives.

East Carolina University also moved to online classes while UNC Charlotte said it would delay in-person learning until October and start the academic year next month with remote instruction.

And earlier this week, CBS 17 News reported that a handful of ZIP codes where the number of COVID-19 cases has shown the most growth over the past two weeks were located close to college campuses, including UNC and N.C. State.

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