Under 30 and COVID-19

by Albert B. Kelly, Mayor, City of Bridgeton

Yes, I sound like a broken record talking about COVID-19 and infection rates among the young, but I am increasingly alarmed by what I’m seeing. By young, I am talking about those in their 30s and younger. If we do nothing else, we need to impress upon our youth the need to take this pandemic deadly serious. Right now, I’m not sure that they’re listening.

With each day that passes, I look at the number of newly diagnosed cases of COVID-19 and I’m seeing increasingly high numbers among this group. Selecting one day at random last week, of the roughly three dozen newly diagnosed cases in Bridgeton, almost all were 30s and younger, with 18 in their 20s and five in their teens.

I know that some of us in middle age and beyond consider that those in their 30s should be old enough to know better—and they wouldn’t be wrong. I also know that for every adult in their 30s that’s gainfully employed and raising a family, there are equally as many 30-somethings that have the intellectual and emotional bandwidth of young tweens. Much the same can be said for certain 20-somethings.

If you have young people in your circle of friends and family, please take the time to warn them about the dangers of this pandemic. That doesn’t mean berating or scolding them, but speaking with them from a place of caring and concern for their health and that of the people they come in contact with as they move about the community.

A week ago, I highlighted the alarming development reported by doctors, namely an increasing number of strokes and blood clots in young adults with COVID-19. Now the Governor of New York has warned of a mysterious, toxic-shock inflammation syndrome with links to the coronavirus that has claimed the lives of three young children.

To date, 73 children in that state have this illness that doctors say is similar to Kawasaki disease, which presents as fever, rash, swelling of the hands and feet, irritation and redness of the whites of the eyes; swollen lymph glands in the neck, and inflammation of the mouth, lips, and throat. These children have all tested positive for COVID-19.

In Cumberland County 52 of our positive cases (5 percent) are in their teens or younger and in Bridgeton, we have almost as many positive cases under the age of 20 as the rest of the county combined. That is due, in part, to demographics and where people live. But demographics aside, I fear that certain segments of the community either don’t know the extent of the risks involved with this virus or they underestimate its lethality.

Not being a scientist, I understand this evolving pandemic as a layperson. But even taking the 30,000-foot view, you can’t help but come away with the sense that this virus can change and mutate on a dime. In early March the conventional wisdom was that children and young people were spared the most severe symptoms of this virus by virtue of their youth. No so much anymore.

It could be that this virus has mutated to some degree and is now presenting a new set of complications. Alternatively, these impacts on the very young might have been there all along and we’re just now recognizing them and connecting the COVID-19 dots. Understanding which scenario is true matters because before we know it, decisions will have to be made about the 2020-2021 school year.

For now, along with my counterparts and colleagues in government, we’re thinking about how things can be done safely this summer—whether it involves opening more small businesses, visiting the zoo, allowing certain activities in the park, or doing routine business in our government offices.

Few things can be done carelessly or casually now. Everything needs to be deliberate and thought out and it is this attention to detail and insistence on discipline that we’ll need to practice ourselves and impart to our youth.

The price they’ll pay for casual and careless, two things that characterize that season of life, might well be too high.

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