COVID-19 does not exempt the young

Disease now spreading fastest among younger population.

There is a tendency for young people to feel invincible. They are often the strongest and healthiest among us. The thoughts of being impacted by illness or injury feel foreign to them and the kinds of things that only happen to older and unluckier people.

Unfortunately, this is leading to a devastating trend during the COVID-19 pandemic. The United States is experiencing another surge of COVID-19 cases and Georgia is not immune. The disease is now spreading fastest among a younger population than it did earlier in the pandemic. According to the Georgia Department of Public Health, 18 to 29 year-olds comprise the group that has by far the most infections as of July 28: 42,803 – representing almost a quarter of all infections in the state.

This increase can mostly be attributed to young adults continuing to congregate in public places and not following recommended safety guidelines – again, a product of that invincibility mindset. Within that dynamic, there also is a troubling manifestation that has received some national attention and that I have now witnessed locally: the hosting and attending of COVID parties. These are events staged to see whether the virus is real or to simply “get it over with.” Piedmont is caring for one very sick young adult who found out just how real COVID-19 is.

It is hard to put into words how irresponsible and senseless the notion of COVID parties is. Highly transmissible diseases easily spread from healthy young people to more vulnerable populations such as parents and grandparents. No one will be safe until everyone takes steps to curtail transmissions and cases are reduced to a small, “manageable” amount.

We have cared for many patients diagnosed with COVID-19 since admitting our first positive patient in March. It has been heartbreaking to see men and women of all ages battling this disease. Caring for someone who wasn’t sure COVID-19 was real or who didn’t take the disease seriously and is now struggling to breathe is even more upsetting to see because it did not have to be this way. It could have been prevented.

Credit: contributed

Credit: contributed

As much as we would all like to wish COVID-19 away and for the pandemic to be over tomorrow, it will likely be with us until a vaccine is available – and that may not be widely available until well into next year. The best way to mitigate the damage that this virus can inflict is to follow the guidelines and best practices that can keep you safe. At Piedmont, we refer to them as the Three W’s; Wear a mask, Wash Your Hands, Watch Your Distance.

Wearing a mask dramatically reduces the risk of infecting others and being infected yourself. COVID-19 can spread asymptomatically, or before a person shows symptoms, through respiratory droplets produced while coughing, sneezing, and even talking or singing. Those droplets travel through the air, which is why we urge staying at least six feet apart from others, as well as using masks or face coverings.

Hand washing, and frequent cleaning of high-touch surfaces, makes sure that you don’t pick up the virus and transmit it to yourself or others via touch.

Lastly, watching your distance means practicing social distancing and refraining from large gatherings where socially distancing from others is not possible. This ranks among the most difficult guidelines to follow as we are social creatures, but it is also the most important because this is how the virus spreads. Outdoor activities are recommended as respiratory particles disperse quickly and do not remain in the air for long. If you have to go inside, please be sure to wear a mask and practice good hand hygiene.

Taking preventative steps each day will bring us one day closer to the end of the pandemic. Until it is truly over, though, healthcare professionals around the world strongly encourage you to follow the behaviors that will keep you and your loved ones safe. Please, be smart: Wear a Mask. Wash your hands. Watch your distance.

Neha Shah, M.D., is an infectious disease specialist with Piedmont Healthcare.