Why under-40s now make up the majority of COVID-19 cases in Alberta

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Youth have become the majority of active COVID-19 cases in Alberta.In her regular update on Friday, Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said that in the weeks following the reopening, there was an increase in infections among young Albertans.

She said it is a reminder that the recovery has once again increased the risk of exposure.

“Over the past few weeks, province-wide, we have started to see a younger positive demographic test for COVID-19,” Hinshaw said. “Sixty per cent of our current active cases are under the age of 40. And we are seeing a particular increase in 20- and 29-year-olds.

Vanessa Meier-Stephenson, an infectious disease expert at the University of Calgary, said the increase is not entirely unexpected, but remains a concern.

“It could certainly be related to meeting groups, a bit of social fatigue,” she said. “The younger population is much more social.

“We are social creatures and we want to be there and interact with other people.”

Meier-Stephenson said the increase in cases in the United States suggests that every time restrictions are relaxed, the number of cases will increase.

“And if we don’t have symptoms, we get a little more laissez-faire and just a little less concerned about it,” she says.

Two distinct risks

Craig Jenne, an infectious disease expert and member of the Canadian Society of Immunology, agreed that young people may think they are less vulnerable — and said that poses two distinct risks.

“This population is at reduced risk of serious illness and poor outcomes, but there is always a risk. We have seen a number of cases here in Canada where healthy young people have succumbed to this virus. So it’s important that people understand that they’re not indestructible,” he said.

“The biggest problem is that these people can then pass the virus on to other people.”

Alberta’s Chief Medical Officer of Health, Dr. Deena Hinshaw, said vigilance will be essential for future phases of recovery as the virus continues to circulate in the province. (Jason Franson/The Canadian Press)

Jenne says young people are also just more likely to go out.

“It’s people who are more likely to enter the community and interact with others,” he said. “So I think that in general, former patients tend not only to stay a little longer at home, but also to follow the guidelines more closely, which ultimately protects them.”

It is also typically the younger population who will return to the workplace who may have more difficulty establishing physical separation, Jenne said.

“So you can take care of the activities, it’s also how closely the guidelines are followed,” he said. “And when people get a little more lax — go out for dinner or other institutions and don’t maintain their physical distance — there’s an increased risk of infection.”

Jenne said physical distancing is the thing that has kept the virus at bay in Alberta so far.

“As we sadden them, that’s how the virus will move,” he said. “We’ve seen that, for example, in a number of U.S. states, as restaurants and bars begin to open, we’re seeing an expected spike in cases. So we expect people to start resuming semi-normal activities that we will see, unfortunately, an increase in infection.

Digits

On Friday, Hinshaw said there had been no cases of COVID-19 related to the recent black lives matter protests in Calgary and Edmonton, adding that anyone attending the protests should wear a mask and consider using the ABTraceTogether app.

Nearly 8,000 Albertans have been tested for the disease in the past 24 hours, bringing the total number of tests in the province to more than 325,000.

The province has 386 active cases and 53 hospitalized patients, six of whom are in intensive care. The death toll remains at 149.

Mr. Hinshaw warned Albertans that while Phase 2 of the reopening is underway — allowing more businesses and services to open and bring together larger groups of people — personal security measures are still needed.

“It is important for all of us to remember that this virus has not disappeared,” she said. “COVIDE-19 is still circulating in our communities and will do so for many months to come.”

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