Coronavirus infections among young in Washington did not decline, study blames absence of messaging

Coronavirus infections among young in Washington did not decline, study blames absence of messaging
(Getty Images)

Researchers were left intrigued after examining coronavirus data from Washington. The number of hospitalizations and deaths declined in the state after reaching its peak on March 22, but the number of infections did not show any signs of slowing down.

"I began to wonder why the incidence did not decline, so I looked if age had something to do with it," Dr. Judith Malmgren, an affiliate assistant professor at the University of Washington and President of HealthStat Consulting Inc, told MEA WorldWide (MEAWW).

After some sleuthing, scientists found out that the rising infections were emerging from the younger population. From March 1 to April 19, 2020, the number of new coronavirus cases began showing a dramatic shift: a 10% decrease in cases in age 60 years and older, and a 20% increase in people under 40, Dr Malmgren and her colleagues wrote in their preprint study. Dr. Malmgren is also the first author of the study.

The findings highlight a flaw in the state reopening guidelines. The two metrics used to guide opening businesses -- a decline of hospitalization and death -- is particularly dangerous when the spread is occurring in the younger population at large, Dr Malmgren explained. The advisory should also factor in the rising infections in people under 40, and their potential for spreading the disease as states reopen.

The US recorded its first Covid-19 case in Washington. It was on 20 January that the authorities confirmed the infection in a man returning from Wuhan. In March, nursing homes became the hunting grounds for the new coronavirus. According to data released from the state Department of Social and Health Services (DSHS), the virus spread to at least 163 long-term care facilities in the state, killing hundreds of the residents.

In March, nursing homes became the hunting grounds for the new coronavirus. (Getty Images)

To understand how the virus progressed, the team analyzed data from the Washington Disease Reporting System -- a database that tracks all Covid-19 tests in the state -- and from the Washington State Department of Health. Between March 1st to April 19, the state confirmed 13,934 cases.

They then segregated coronavirus cases by age. "As the epidemic progressed and the curve flattened, fewer older and more younger persons tested positive for Covid-19 with the percentage of total cases among 0-19 years and 20-39 years doubling from 20 to 40%," the authors wrote in their study.

What led to this rise?

In the early stages of the outbreak in Washington, health authorities formulated plans to educate the elderly on the need for social distancing, mask-wearing staying home, and avoiding the public. "Messaging concerning the risk of mortality and danger of coronavirus has targeted persons 60 years and older and those with comorbid conditions,"Dr Malmgren explained. As a result, the number of infections among the older population began plummeting. The researchers said the approach worked.

But young adults and children were not adequately informed. Public health officials told them that they were likely to have a mild form of the disease. It provided an illusion that these people are not under restrictions, resulting in the uptick, Dr Malmgren noted.

While it is true that the infection is mostly mild or asymptomatic among the young, they could still trigger an outbreak and expose vulnerable populations to the dreaded disease. She added: "We have seen the age ratio change over 8 weeks time from older to younger persons in Washington State. This is a testament to the success in curtailing the disease in older adults but a failure to protect younger adults and children from a potentially deadly disease."

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