People under 50 don't think the coronavirus is coming for them. It is.
  • The coronavirus pandemic has overtaken the entire world, but many people under 50 are not taking recommended precautions to help contain the spread of COVID-19.
  • From college students swarming the beaches for spring break to older adults continuing with their daily routines, some young people are still insisting that they won't feel the effects of COVID-19.
  • While it is true that death rates from the coronavirus are highest among older populations, people under 50 are still vulnerable to the effects of the disease.
  • New data suggests that young people are testing positive for COVID-19 in much higher numbers than initially anticipated.
  • Young, otherwise healthy individuals, are also susceptible to having the coronavirus without showing symptoms, meaning that they could unknowingly spread the virus to more vulnerable populations.
  • Visit Insider's homepage for more stories.

The coronavirus pandemic has impacted nearly every aspect of life — from sports and entertainment to politics and the economy — in regions across the globe, and the United States is no exception.

But some young Americans are refusing to heed the warnings of health officials or to take recommended precautions to help contain the spread of COVID-19.

Even those who don't exhibit serious symptoms can be a public health danger by ignoring health restrictions.
REUTERS/Steve Nesius

Many college students who were scheduled to travel for spring break trips have swarmed beaches in southern states despite repeated calls from government and health officials to practice social distancing. And even though President Trump and governors across the nation have restricted group gatherings to a maximum of 10 individuals, students have found themselves packed tightly onto "booze cruises" with hundreds of other young people or within close range of countless other sunbathers.

But students aren't the only ones defying government mandates and ignoring the advice of health experts. Working-age adults and older millennials have been guilty of continuing with their regular routines. White House coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx singled out the entire generation during a briefing on the coronavirus earlier this week.

"I want to speak particularly to our largest generations now, our millennials," Birx said. "I am the mom of two wonderful millennial young women who are bright and hard-working, and I will tell you what I told to them: they are the core group that will stop this virus."

"Now, why do I think the millennials are key?" Birx added later. "They're the ones who are out and about."

Nearly every authoritative source has concluded that social distancing, which necessarily interrupts most people's typical daily routines, is the most effective method of limiting the spread of the virus. And certain American cities — most notably San Francisco and the rest of the Bay Area — have instituted shelter-in-place measures that forbid individuals from congregating outside of their homes.

So why, then, are many people under 50 years of age continuing with life as usual?

Misinformation about how age impacts the effects and transmission of the virus have given some young people false confidence

Initially, our understanding of how the illness disproportionately impacts the elderly and those with preexisting conditions gave younger individuals a sense of invincibility. And while it's true that death rates from the coronavirus are highest among older populations, people under 50 are still vulnerable to the effects of the disease.

According to the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention, there had been 44 confirmed coronavirus deaths in the United States as of March 16. Of those, 20 were among people ages 65 to 84, while an additional 15 were among those 85 or older. As of Monday, only one person younger than 45 had died due to complications from COVID-19.

Business Insider/Andy Kiersz, data from CDC

Even though the elderly are more likely to die due to COVID-19, a majority of Americans with confirmed cases are younger

Of the 4,226 cases of COVID-19 in the United States confirmed by the CDC, nearly 1,700 come from patients who are younger than 65 compared to just 1,200 cases that have been reported among people older than 65.

When those numbers are converted to percentages, a whopping 70% of Americans diagnosed with the coronavirus are younger than 65, and 34% are under 45. That said, the CDC admitted to not having confirmed age data for roughly half of the reported COVID-19 cases, so these statistics may not be representative of the United States as a whole.

Business Insider/Andy Kiersz, data from CDC

Young, healthy individuals can experience severe symptoms after contracting COVID-19

The recent data released by the CDC reveals that 40% of patients admitted to hospitals due to coronavirus complications were aged 20 to 54. The report also found that 12% of those admitted to intensive care are between the ages of 20 and 44, showing that younger people are susceptible to developing severe cases as well.

One such case has surfaced in 44-year-old marathon runner David Lat. The New York legal recruiter — who has run the New York City Marathon twice — reported feeling "constantly weak and winded" while fighting COVID-19 and even required an oxygen machine 24 hours per day.

Lat's husband, meanwhile, also tested positive for COVID-19. Compared to Lat, he exhibited relatively mild symptoms that lasted about a week, which prompted Lat to liken his husband's condition to "a low-level flu."

"But for those who get severe cases, like me, it's been hell," Lat said. "I've had 10 days & counting, with no real improvement, of fever, fatigue, joint aches, chills, cough, respiratory difficulty. I have never been this sick in my entire life."

Lat and his husband's markedly different experiences despite receiving the same diagnosis show just how much COVID-19 symptoms can vary from person to person.

Even those who don't exhibit severe symptoms can be a public health danger by ignoring health restrictions

While it is undoubtedly possible for young, healthy people to experience severe symptoms from COVID-19, some individuals wind up without any symptoms at all. Shortly after Utah Jazz star Donovan Mitchell tested positive for the coronavirus, he told "Good Morning America" that the "scariest part" of his experience with the virus was not feeling sick at all.

"I'm asymptomatic — I could walk down the street if it wasn't public knowledge that I was sick, you wouldn't know it," Mitchell told GMA. "I think that's the scariest part about this virus, is that you may seem fine, be fine, and you never know who you may be talking to, who they're going home to."

The spring breakers who continue to party on southern beaches and the workhorses who remain on their regular commutes each day could, like Mitchell, be carrying and unknowingly spreading the virus to others. Any of the people with whom they interact could potentially be more vulnerable to complications, and thus those individuals are actively endangering the community at large.

It's this risk that prompted New York Governor Andrew Cuomo to call these actions "unintelligent and reckless" in a Thursday morning press briefing from Albany.

"These pictures of people on beaches, these videos of young people saying, 'This is my spring break, I'm out to party,'" Cuomo said. "This is so unintelligent and reckless. I can't even begin to express it."

Social distancing is one of the best ways to reduce the spread of the virus and help protect older people and those with underlying health risks. However, some are calling for Americans to take their coronavirus response one step further. On Tuesday, Dr. Ashish Jha, the director of the Harvard Global Health Institute, called for a two-week "national quarantine" amid the coronavirus pandemic.

"We can either have a national quarantine now, two weeks, get a grip on where things are, and then reassess," Jha said on MSNBC's "Morning Joe" program. "Or we can not wait another week, and when things look really terrible, be forced into it."

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