A growing majority of coronavirus cases in Sacramento County is being reported among young adults. And health officials think birthday parties and graduations may be to blame.
Members of the millennial and “Gen Z” generations – typically those under the age of 39 – make up more than half of Sacramento County’s coronavirus infections, data from local health officials show. The number of those infected in those age groups is on the rise: of the 2,379 new COVID-19 cases reported over the past 12 days in Sacramento, more than 1,400 — about 60 percent — have been in people under the age of 40.
Since the start of the pandemic, over 3,100 of the 5,938 people who’ve tested positive for the coronavirus in Sacramento County have been under 40, according to the county health department’s coronavirus dashboard.
The trend is also playing out in nearby counties. As of Monday, 61 percent of coronavirus cases in El Dorado County were among people ages 18 to 49. The largest age group of cases in Yolo County is those between the ages of 25 and 34. And 60 percent of the cases in Placer County are in the 18-to-49 age block.
What’s fairly consistent is that adults between ages 18 and 49 make up just about 60 percent of all reported COVID-19 cases in California. That’s an over-representation of the statewide population: only about 44 percent of Californians are in that age group.
Local health leaders, including Sacramento County health chief Dr. Peter Beilenson and health officer Dr. Olivia Kasirye, have said contact tracing efforts are linking large clusters of cases to indoor, in-home gatherings among friends and extended family members in which guests have not been maintaining adequate social distancing or wearing masks.
Because of the incubation time for the coronavirus and lag times in testing, results and reporting, Sacramento health officials have said the spike that started showing up around mid-June likely began with exposures around Memorial Day weekend in late May.
These gatherings have brought a variety of age groups together, but the county pointed to two types of get-togethers that tend to involve young crowds — birthday and graduation parties — as big factors in the recent coronavirus spread.
With high school graduation ceremonies and university commencements off, many took to holding private gatherings in order to celebrate. But, as Beilenson has pointed out multiple times, both the statewide stay-at-home order and the county’s COVID-19 health order continue to prohibit social gatherings of any size with people outside of one’s own household. That element of the restrictions has not been lifted or eased, but remains something that’s effectively impossible to enforce inside private residences.
For Sacramento, Beilenson has even started to discourage outdoor gatherings of significant size.
“I really think there should be an explicit no gathering outdoors of more than X number of people,” Beilenson said Monday. “We are thinking about doing it” in Sacramento’s County’s local virus order, “but it would be helpful if the governor did it.”
Faced with an explosion in coronavirus activity statewide, Gov. Gavin Newsom on Monday announced the biggest reversal to date in California’s reopening process, directing gyms, indoor church activities, shopping malls, nail salons and several sectors of indoor businesses to close in 30 hard-hit counties that combine for more than 75 percent of the state’s population, while also issuing a statewide closure order for all bars, restaurants’ indoor dining rooms, theaters, zoos, card rooms and other entertainment centers.
New coronavirus data in Sacramento
The county public health office on July 2 added a section to its dashboard breaking down lab-confirmed cases by decade — ages 0 to 9, 10 to 19 and so on, up through the final age group of residents 80 and older.
Up to that point, about 48 percent of infections recorded countywide had been among those ages 39 or younger. The recent influx of younger cases has flipped this group to a majority: 52 percent of positive cases throughout the pandemic have now been under 40.
People in their 20s make up the biggest plurality of cases for any 10-year age group. A total of 1,287 positive tests for patients ages 20 to 29 represent close to one-quarter the overall infection total, at 22 percent. The next highest is people in their 30s, at just over 1,150 infected.
Sacramento County remains amid its worst surge yet in the pandemic by essentially all available measures, including new cases, hospitalizations and fatalities.
Last week the county reported 14 new coronavirus deaths and Tuesday it disclosed a one-day record-high eight deaths, increasing its pandemic toll to 91. Of the recent 22 fatalities, eight have been under age 65. Only five of the first 69 deaths through the prior four months of the pandemic had been in that younger age group. Sacramento County does not break down deceased victims’ ages beyond noting whether they were 65 or older.
Hospitalized COVID-19 patients and cases in Sacramento County ICU beds soared to record highs this week. According to a state data dashboard updated Tuesday, Sacramento had 176 coronavirus patients in the hospital, 61 of whom required intensive care. By comparison, only 28 were hospitalized and 11 in the ICU on June 13.
State and local health agencies have not released data on the ages of hospitalized COVID-19 patients.
Newsom says youth let guard down
Businesses across a variety of sectors, from restaurants to gyms to salons, started to reopen throughout most of California, in stages, from about mid-May through mid-June, in accordance with Newsom’s four-phase plan.
Amid those reopenings and data showing a sharp rise in new cases and hospitalizations by late June, Newsom cast some of the blame for coronavirus spread on younger people becoming too lax in following social distancing protocols.
“There is a sense that a lot of young people, you’re young, think you’re invincible,” he said during a June 24 briefing. “That can be a selfish mindset.”
Dr. Anthony Fauci, the country’s leading expert in infectious diseases, seemed to agree with Newsom. That same day, Fauci said during a virtual video conference discussion hosted by the Sacramento Press Club that young people “think that now that we’re opening, opening means all or none, black or white.”
“Either no restrictions or lock-down,” he said. “There’s a big difference between the two.”
Concern also grew leading up to the Fourth of July weekend, and local health officials are continuing to brace for a spike in new cases likely to show up involving those who reveled in Independence Day festivities.
A week after the holiday, as weather in the Sacramento Valley shot up to triple-digits, plenty of vacationers took the trip to Lake Tahoe to cool off, and it wasn’t hard to find people flouting social distancing guidelines at beaches there.
Nonetheless, a Sacramento couple in their mid-20s told a Sacramento Bee reporter during a masked-up interview that they felt “super safe” as they were “enjoying the sun.”
Are young children getting coronavirus?
Juveniles make up more than 8 percent of Sacramento County’s cases, with nearly 480 infected. That includes almost 240 children younger than 10, according to Monday’s update from the county.
About 90 cases involving those 9 years old or younger have been reported since July 2, or 38 percent of the all-time total among that age group. As a result, the case total for children in Sacramento County under age 10 has increased recently at roughly the same pace as the general population.
As the summer goes on, conversations are continuing about when and how on-campus learning should resume for K-12 schools. Debates, some of them heated, are ongoing at the local, state and national levels as the fall approaches. The head of the union representing teachers in the Sacramento City Unified School District said Monday it is “highly unlikely” students will be taught in classrooms when classes begin in September.
Newsom has said that school campuses won’t reopen until data show it’s safe. Officials in California’s two largest school districts, Los Angeles and San Diego, announced Monday that students will continue online-only when the academic year starts in August.
How do Sacramento age trends compare?
Sacramento County is one of the only localities currently reporting a breakdown of COVID-19 infection totals by decade, but most track that number by at least four age groups: those under 18, those 18 to 49, those 50 to 64 and patients 65 or older.
While a majority of cases regionally and statewide are in the 18-to-49 age group, minors are underrepresented in the data, making up 23 percent of California’s population but only about 8 percent of all coronavirus cases reported as of Monday. Testing priorities likely make up at least some of this discrepancy, as the focus has remained on testing more vulnerable populations as well as those with a known exposure to an existing case.
Those age 65 and older make up 13 percent of the Sacramento County’s case total but 88 percent of its fatalities, with elderly populations considered the most vulnerable to the respiratory disease.
Statewide, 12 percent of cases but 77 percent of the pandemic’s deaths have come in adults 65 or older, who make up 16 percent of California’s population. As Fauci pointed out in his June talk, the fact that the bulk of deaths are occurring in elderly populations may have further contributed to younger people’s misconceptions about the threat imposed by the virus.
The Sacramento Bee’s Tony Bizjak, Sophia Bollag, Maria Heeter, Dale Kasler, Andrew Sheeler and Alexandra Yoon-Hendricks contributed to this story.