When Laura Mae, 27, first head about the coronavirus, it didn’t seem like a big deal.
“I’m in college, and school was still going on. It didn’t really sink in,” she said. “And once it did start spreading, I thought, if I did get it, I’m young and healthy, I’ll be fine. I don’t need to worry.”
It was Saturday, March 14, and concerns about the coronavirus were amping up around the nation, said Laura Mae, who lives in Milwaukee. (Kaiser Health News is using Laura Mae’s first and middle names to grant her request for partial anonymity due to concern about online harassment.)
She realized it might be the last weekend to go out before everything shut down. Plus, her spring break had just started. So she and a friend decided to party that night.
And she wasn’t the only one.
As college and university spring breaks across the country converged that weekend, news coverage showed young people frolicking on Miami beaches, walking down Bourbon Street in New Orleans and crowding music clubs in Nashville, Tennessee. And to celebrate St. Patrick’s Day, many cities, such as New York, Washington, Chicago and Austin, Texas, saw throngs of people dressed in green and lining up for beer. There wasn’t a lot of social distance to be seen.
Part of the reason these young adults might have felt comfortable going to spots with large crowds was that media reports, buttressed by data from China’s outbreak, indicated younger people were not as susceptible to the coronavirus as older age groups or people with underlying conditions. But, that hasn’t held true. Now, in several major American cities, young adults between 18 and 40 account for some of the largest shares among groups testing positive.
As of Thursday, in New York City, 39 percent of cases were among those ages 18 to 44. Out of Los Angeles County’s 7,194 confirmed cases, 2,409, or 33 percent, were in the 18-40 age range. Nearly half of those testing positive in Travis County, Texas, which encompasses much of the Austin metro area, were between 20 and 39. Washington, D.C., the nation’s capital, released numbers Wednesday showing that 40 percent of the district’s cases were ages 19-40.