An average of 20 percent of people between ages 18 and 29 said they don’t wear a face mask between May and June, and about 60 percent of that group said they took one or no other precautions to help protect themselves and others from COVID-19.
Young people are now the main drivers of increasing coronavirus cases across the U.S., which are now hitting record highs for daily infections.
COVID-19 is not particularly dangerous to young people, but they are far from invincible from it.
And as temperatures fall, social activities move indoors and families gather for the holidays (against the advice of many public health officials), the odds that younger Americans expose their more vulnerable elders to the virus will go up.
If they do, the death toll will likely climb higher, too.
But the adoption of safer practices like masking, hand-washing and social distancing could protect young people themselves as well as other age groups, the CDC urges, and will likely even save lives.
Among the 20 percent of US adults under 30 (far left) who didn’t wear a mask on average, nearly 60% said they were practicing one or no other mitigation tactics (dark blue), like hand-washing and social distancing, by June, the CDC found
As the pandemic has worn on, awareness of COVID-19 and the kinds of practices that help reduce its spread has undoubtedly become more common.
But so has ‘pandemic fatigue.’
The CDC surveyed over 2,000 Americans about their habits for helping to reduce the spread of coronavirus.
While the proportion of people who reported wearing a mask increased from 78 percent in April up to 89 percent in June, the share of of people who took any other steps decreased over the same time period.
The exception was avoiding restaurants. The share of people who stuck to eating at home remained roughly the same.
Generally speaking, people are fairly good about washing their hands, the CDC report found.
In April, more than 93 percent of people said they wash or sanitize their hands. The number fell, but never below 82 percent overall.
Even this standard hygiene procedure was often eschewed by 18- to 29-year-olds, however.
By June, just 81.7 percent of that age group said they keep their hands clean. By comparison, about 93 percent of people 45 and older still kept up hand-washing in June.
For all age groups, the number of practices to reduce the spread of COVID-19 that people kept up fell over the course of the spring, as pandemic fatigue set in
Young people seemed to get particularly tired of cancelling or postponing social and recreational plans.
Sixty percent of adults under 30 said they’d backed out of pleasure activities due to the pandemic in May, a rate that fell slightly to 58.4 percent in June, when young people were driving up the summer spike in coronavirus cases to then-record setting highs in the 70,000-range.
Unsurprisingly, people who reported wearing a face mask also reported practicing a greater number or additional measures to avoid catching or passing along coronavirus.
But by June, more than 45 percent of people who did not wear face masks said they were doing one or fewer things to help stop the spread.
And, of course, that low adherence to masking, social distancing, hand-washing and avoiding groups was most common among the youngest age groups.
‘These findings suggest that lower engagement in social mitigation behaviors among younger adults might be one possible reason for the increased incidence of confirmed COVID-19 cases in this group, which began in June 2020 and preceded increases among persons aged ≥60 years by 4–15 days,’ the CDC authors wrote.
Although they did not offer any particular suggestions for how to reach young people, the CDC scientist urged that making sure young people know what they can do to slow the spread of coronavirus may be a crucial part of curbing the pandemic.
‘Reaching these groups through targeted channels, trusted leaders, and influencers at national, state, and local levels has the potential to improve use and effectiveness of critical public health strategies to protect persons of all ages by preventing the spread of SARS-CoV-2.’
Despite the lower risk that they will die of COVID-19, the infection still poses a significant risk to them.
A growing number of young coronavirus survivors are finding themselves in the ‘long-hauler’ category, suffering symptoms that drag on for months and months after they’ve cleared the virus.
Some experts even worry that chronic effects of COVID-19 could be considered a ‘pre-existing condition,’ and prevent these young survivors from getting health insurance, if the Affordable Care Act – and the pre-existing condition mandate with it – is struck down by the Supreme Court.
And Harvard research recently posted online ahead of peer-review and publication found that for various periods this year, coronavirus surpassed drug overdoses as the leading cause of death for young adults in the South, Sun Belt and Northeast of the US.