Initially, COVID-19 didn’t seem to largely affect young adults. But as the coronavirus spread worldwide, a different statistical truth has emerged – young adults are at risk.

While much of the world scrambled into self-quarantine last week, footage of spring-break partying in close company at bars, restaurants and on beaches went viral and raised a whole new round of concerns about controlling the disease spread.

On Sunday, Mecklenburg County (which includes Charlotte and Huntersville) announced that 49 percent of the 80 confirmed coronavirus cases were in patients aged 20 to 39.

Dr. Genevieve Brauning

“We know for sure that young people of all ages can become infected and can have serious consequences, including hospitalization, dependence on ventilators and even death,” said Dr. Genevieve Brauning, a family medicine physician at Novant Health SouthPark Family Physicians. “Even with more mild infections, they can be a point of spread and be responsible for transferring the virus to someone who has even higher risk.”

Many millennials (those ages 20 to 37) ignored or scoffed at early warnings to avoid gathering in groups, and staying more than 6 feet away from other people.

“This is a unique time, and it’s going to require a unique perspective from that generation,” Brauning said. “They’re faced with something that not all generations necessarily have faced. I certainly believe they can rise to the occasion and understand how important their compliance is.

“Each of them has to choose if they want to be part of the solution by distancing,” Brauning said. “Otherwise, they are actively part of the problem.”

Brauning emphasized that a large percentage of the virus is spread through “asymptomatic shedding.” That means somebody may not have any symptoms, but could still be actively infected and be transmitting the virus to others.

“That could be any of us,” she said. “We have to presume that everybody is infected, because there is the possibility that you could be infected, and infect others, without having any symptoms whatsoever.”

Now that everyone is being strongly urged to practice social distancing, there’s no need for a late-complying millennial to immediately rush for a coronavirus test.

“Only in the event that you develop fever and a deep cough, do we recommend that you seek medical attention,” Brauning said. “If you are concerned, but you’re not quite sure, I recommend reaching out to your doctor with a phone call or electronically. They can help you make the right decision about whether you need to be tested or not. Otherwise, I recommend that you stay put.

“There’s no doubt in my mind that we will get through this,” Brauning said. “You can make a difference in how long this lasts by engaging in social distancing now. The more people who engage in social distancing immediately, the faster this all will end. The less people who do it, the longer we’re in for it. We all need to be a link in the chain, to improve the duration of this infection.”

Novant Health has a 24-hour helpline to answer COVID-19 questions. The number is: 877-499-1697 or 877-9NOVANT.

If you think you may be at risk for COVID-19, use the Novant Health online coronavirus assessment tool.

Novant Health team members are on the front lines in the battle against the COVID-19 pandemic. Novant Health Foundation has established a new fund dedicated to supporting our teams, as well as the overall response to the pandemic. Contributions will support team members and help fund testing and medication to support patient care, as well as medical supplies. To donate, click here.

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