MACON, Ga. — Public health experts say younger people are helping drive the recent surge in newly-confirmed COVID-19 cases across Georgia.
"We are generally seeing the number of individuals infected shifting from older populations to a younger people at this point," said Georgia State University School of Public Health professor Colin Smith.
Dr. Carlos del Rio at Emory School of Medicine agrees, saying more young people are being diagnosed.
"The population impacted is much younger," he said on a conference call Wednesday.
The shift is playing out locally, too.
According to the North Central Health District, the overall case count in its 13-county area jumped 19% from June 28 to July 1.
People under the age of 50 made up the majority of new COVID-19 cases over the last three weeks.
"This is the first time that has happened to this degree," said district spokesman Michael Hokanson.
Virus-related hospitalizations have also been rising across the state, though at least at Coliseum Health System, infectious disease Dr. Jennifer Hoffman says most COVID-19 inpatients still skew older.
"What I'm seeing are still people, you know, mostly in their 50s, 60s, 70s, often with underlying commodities," said Hoffman.
Young people, though less prone to severe outcomes, are by no means immune to the virus or to its most serious complications, and even if they handle the virus well, Hokanson says young people can spread it to others who are more vulnerable
"Even though a healthy individual that is younger might not have the most severe outcomes for COVID themselves, they're still a transmission risk to those fragile individuals," he said.
Hokanson says the upcoming holiday weekend is a critical moment in the state's fight against the virus that is, for the moment, spreading quickly.
He stresses the importance of social distancing, wearing a face mask and avoiding large crowds.
"It is very, very important for young people and everyone in Georgia to follow the guidelines," he said.
The advice falls in line with Governor Brian Kemp's recommendations, who has been on a statewide tour this week urging all Georgians to wear masks and social distance in public.
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