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A top health official on the White House’s coronavirus task force warned Wednesday that younger people could suffer severe health risks from Covid-19, the disease caused by the virus.

Most public health messaging so far has stressed that people who are older, whose immune systems are weakened, and who have underlying diseases are at higher risk of becoming critical cases. But during a briefing, Deborah Birx, the official, cited preliminary data from Europe to caution the public that younger adults can get very sick as well.


“There are concerning reports coming out of France and Italy about some young people getting seriously ill, and very seriously ill in the ICUs,” said Birx, a physician and ambassador.

Birx did not provide details about the data and seemed to be talking about millennials, who make up the bulk of people in their 20s and 30s. She added that authorities have not seen “significant mortality” among children.

Indeed, so far there have been zero fatal infections in children under 10 reported, and one death reported in a teen, a 14-year-old boy in China, according to a study published this week. Children are known to get infected by the virus, but overall experience much milder symptoms than older adults. It’s not clear what role they have in spreading it.


The study this week, which appeared in the journal Pediatrics and looked at more than 2,100 pediatric infections in China, reported that 90% of children had asymptomatic, mild, or moderate infections. Only 5.9% had severe or critical cases, compared to up to 20% in adults.

Birx suggested one possible explanation for the cases reported in Europe among millennials is that perhaps the elderly and others at risk for serious infections took more protective steps to avoid an infection, whereas millennials did not. The data reflect who gets exposed, not necessarily that the virus targets one demographic group over another.

Even if only a fraction of younger people get severe infections, if many of them contract the virus overall, that can lead to a notable number of severe cases, Birx said.

“There may be a disproportional number of infections among that group, and so even if it’s a rare occurrence, it may be seen more frequently in that group and be evident now,” she said.

Birx this week has been stressing that millennials need to heed recommendations to avoid gatherings of more than 10 people and to take other steps to protect themselves and others from the virus. Health authorities have argued that younger people who think they won’t be affected by the virus are in turn hurting efforts to stop the spread and putting others at risk.

“You have the potential then to spread it to someone who does have a condition that none of us knew about and cause them to have a disastrous outcome,” Birx said Wednesday.

At a World Health Organization briefing Wednesday, health officials also stressed that cases of severe illness were not restricted to older people.

“The idea that this is a disease that causes death in older people, we need to be very, very careful with,” said Mike Ryan, the head of the WHO’s emergency program, who noted that almost 20% of deaths in South Korea were in people younger than 60. “Physicians again in Italy will attest to this, and in Korea. This isn’t just a disease of the elderly. There is no question that younger, healthier people experience an overall less serious disease. But a significant number of otherwise healthy adults can develop a more severe form of the disease.”

Available data from other countries do not break down the severity of surviving cases based on age, but demonstrate the danger posed to older groups.

In South Korea, with more than 8,400 cases, only one person in their 30s and one person in their 40s has died. No one younger than that has died. And in Italy, no one younger than their 30s has died.

According to data from Italy, of the first 22,500 Covid-19 infections there, only 1.2% of cases occurred in children 18 and under, and about a quarter were reported in people 19 to 50 years old. (It’s possible that mild cases were missed because people did not seek medical care or were not tested. That can skew the data, particularly if younger people were more likely to have mild cases.)

Helen Branswell contributed reporting.

  • “Wayne” is a Russian troll. Note, not only the incomprehensible “English” but the inability to know that BB’s PARENTS would have lived through the Depression, not their grandparents. As for the content, what was somewhat comprehensible, none of that was even remotely accurate. But of course, that’s not the point. The point is to get Americans fighting one another to Make Russia Great Again. Russian “scholars” in US “studies” have, for over 20 years now, hypothesized on breaking up the US to make Russia a greater geopolitical power. Laughable because they lack the resources the US has, but that’s the idea. Of course, if you have enough geopolitical power, you can just steal the rest. In any case, it’s imperative that everyone in the West calls this nonsense out when we see it. And no point blaming BBs over anything now; what’s done is done. The goal now is just to stay alive and keep your neighbors alive. F— Mother Russia. Me against my brother, but me and my brother against the outsider. Understand?

  • Could it be that a young person’s course of disease depends on the details of their initial exposure? As I understand it, if the infection gets into your lungs, you are probably dead, but if it stays in the nose and throat, you can recover. Is there a difference between the outcome of someone who inhales a cloud of virus in the air from someone’s cough, and someone who touches his face after touching a contaminated doorknob?

  • This headline “U.S. official says data show severe coronavirus infections among millennials, not just older Americans” is not supported by anything in the story.
    The story notes, referencing France and Italy, “Birx did not provide details about the data and seemed to be talking about millennials….” So as yet there is little to no data about American millenials. Virtually everything in this article, as in most “information” about the coronavirus, is hypotheticals and speculation.

  • This isn’t a flu. We don’t shut down airlines for the flu. Coronavirus is much more contagious than the flu. The difference is that the disease, Covid19 is giving a much wider response in symptoms than the flu gives. For some people they have no symptoms but are still contagious. Other people die. They go on a respirator/ventilator and die. Which means more people will die from the flu, from pneumonia, from heart attacks, because we don’t have resources. The reason many places have shelter in place or quarantines in place is to prevent the spread of the coronavirus, thus lowering the number of people contracting severe Covid19 symptoms. We all love the beach and the outdoors and we can continue to enjoy, but we need to have space between ourselves at all times, even outdoors. Way too many instances this week where people are not social distancing which means this will all last longer. If we continue to ignore and have increasing number of cases we will end up in a situation where our armed forces are going to have to patrol our streets. This would be a situation none of us wants to be in, we need to take the preventative measures now.

  • I live on the west coast of Florida and while the beaches are crowded in some areas, dont shame people for visiting the beach. Fresh air and sunshine are documented as good for disinfection and healing. Patients during the Spanish Flu and Civil War recovered better out doors. As the testing increases and the real fatality rate reveals itself, it may not be as low as the seasonal flu but it will reduce significantly. Do you pass the same judgement on people who dont get the flu shot? You should because the death toll for that is still much higher than Covid 19. Millions of people die every year of cholera, yellow fever, dysentery and malaria but since they are in countries you dont care about, I guess that is ok too.

    • Yeah shame on the government but lets condemn people to China aye Jack- I’m guessing your last name has three letters and starts with an A? The seniors in the villages are barely even attempting to recognize that there is an issue, so if you want to go around judging people, maybe look in the mirror and remember that public health starts with the administration and federal response. If this was called the Caravan-virus maybe Trump would have done something about it instead of ignoring it and now actively attaching a nationality to it in hopes he can escape responsibility. Mellennials don’t blame your generation for the HIV/AIDS epidemic or all the debt you shoveled onto us while holding the rate of income down and requiring ever higher education levels. Thanks for the debt, poor infrastructure, pay day loans Boomer. Your age group is still ruining the world around us, but yes shame on younger people, especially those that step on your lawn, right? Have a good one Jack-A$$

  • The millennials partying at the Florida beaches are thoughtless and irresponsible. Are these the same morons that Bernie Sanders wants to give a free college education? They obviously don’t care about anybody but themselves. Too bad we can’t quarantine the whole lot of them. Shame on Florida’s governor for failing to shut down the beaches.

    • It’s all fun and games to blame millennial until you are put into a retirement home and left there Jack. I’m guessing by your arrogance that your age demographic was responsible for bringing diabetes and heart disease to the masses along with cigarette and opioid addiction… but man the young are so selfish. Quarantine yourself Jack! You are in no position to judge others unless you want the same brought down on you for your apparent ignorance and lack of perspective.

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