Young people in Boone County are increasingly contracting COVID-19 more than other age groups, worrying health officials since that segment of the population is sometimes asymptomatic yet can easily infect more vulnerable populations.
The Health Department reported that people under 30 years old account for 52% of the county’s cases. In its Monday news release, the Columbia/Boone County Public Health and Human Services Department said the 20-24 age group has seen the highest number of total cases across all age groups. Most people in the 20-24 group contracted COVID-19 via contact with a confirmed case.
“This increase is alarming to us because we worry about younger cases with no or slight symptoms who, because they don’t even realize they are carrying the virus, may unknowingly infect others,” Scott Clardy, assistant director for the Health Department, wrote in an email to the Missourian.
Clardy wrote that young people with COVID-19 are more often asymptomatic compared to older people and that sometimes symptoms are so mild the individual may not realize those symptoms are related to COVID-19.
Young people are not as susceptible to fatal cases of COVID-19 when compared to older age groups. However, Clardy wrote, young people can still spread the virus if contracted, which can then reach at-risk populations like older people and the immunocompromised.
Despite low fatalities in younger age groups, young people have died from COVID-19 both state- and nationwide. In Missouri, three people aged 20-29 have died from the virus, but no one under 20 years old has died from COVID-19, according to the state’s COVID-19 information hub.
Boone County’s first-reported death was a person in their 60s, and the county’s second-reported death was between 45-64 years old. A vast majority of coronavirus-related deaths in Missouri comes from the 80-and-above age group with 495 deaths. The second highest deaths among age groups comes from the 70-79 group with 232 deaths, as of Tuesday afternoon.
When students return to Columbia for the fall semester, there will be more people in younger age groups to potentially contract and spread the virus.
MU has begun implementing precautions to limit the spread of COVID-19 in the fall. Last week, MU announced all students are required to wear face coverings indoors and all instructors are required to wear face shields indoors.
The county began its new health order Tuesday, replacing the previous health order’s more restrictive guidelines.
The new health order permits higher occupancy rates in most businesses but still requires social distancing.
The county reported 10 new cases of the virus Tuesday, which brings the total number of reported cases to 287 and total active cases to 73. Five Boone County residents are now hospitalized. There have been 34 travel-related cases, 151 cases via contact with a confirmed case, 87 community transmitted cases and 15 pending or unknown cases.
To spread awareness about the increase of cases among young people, the Health Department has increased its presence on social media and increased public information available about the issue, according to Clardy.
The Health Department encourages young people to take all precautions to prevent transmitting the virus, which includes staying home when sick, frequently washing hands and always maintaining a social distance of at least 6 feet.
“The virus is still with us and measures such as these are all we have to fight the transmission of the virus until there is a vaccine,” Clardy wrote. “We all need to be more mindful of the health of the community in general and not just our own health.”