A fresh analysis of age-based statistics offers solid evidence that COVID-19 is becoming more widespread among young Americans. According to data released by the U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention on Sept. 23, children and adults under 30 accounted for more than a third of all COVID-19 cases reported in the U.S. in July and August. That’s up from around 16% in January through April.
The trend is particularly stark among people in their 20s, who made up more than 20% of reported cases in recent months, a higher number than any other age group. Though younger people are less likely to develop severe coronavirus symptoms, this is yet another signal that those of all age groups need to follow guidelines like social distancing and wearing face coverings if we want to tamp down the pandemic.
In addition, the data show that the growth rate of new cases among younger people recently accelerated: the monthly case count more than doubled for kids, teens and 20-somethings over the summer. For instance, there were 189,000 cases among 20-year-olds in August—a nearly 100,000 increase from May. In contrast, the month-by-month case numbers didn’t increase dramatically among elderly groups, and actually decreased among those older than 80.
The CDC’s report affirms that the age demographics of COVID-19, on a national level, continue to skew younger as the pandemic progresses. In August, the most recent month presented in the report, the median age of COVID-19 cases stood at 38. Earlier in the pandemic, the median age was 48, according to previously published data from the agency.
The reason for the shifting case loads is likely due to a variety of factors. Outbreaks at colleges and universities may be one. But testing among younger people has expanded as well, particularly as schools and workplaces are requiring COVID-19 tests to contain the virus on their premises. More testing of this group is exposing cases, both symptomatic and asymptomatic, that would otherwise not get tallied.
Despite their growing share of cases, younger people still appear less likely to get severely ill from COVID-19, and the vast majority of deaths related to COVID-19 have consistently been adults 65 and older. But to contain a viral pandemic, even those unlikely to get critical symptoms need to follow public health measures to prevent the virus from spreading—especially to those who are at higher risk, in this case parents, grandparents and other older adults in young people’s lives.