COVID-19 cases increased 55% among people between the ages of 18-22 in just one month, according to data collected by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention between Aug. 2 to Sept. 5.
While people between the ages of 18-22, as well as children, are at a lower risk for severe disease or death caused by the novel coronavirus, it is still important to note that younger people can be key vectors for spreading the virus to more vulnerable populations, the study said.
As students return to college campuses, experts believe the number of confirmed infections will only increase.
“In the United States, approximately 45% of persons aged 18–22 years were enrolled in colleges and universities in 2019. As these institutions reopen, opportunities for infection increase; therefore, mitigation efforts and monitoring reports of COVID-19 cases among young adults are important,” according to the study.
The greatest increase was in the Northeast region, where infections rose an alarming 144%, according to the study. Midwest regions also saw a notable increase in COVID-19 cases at 123.4%.
The study also noted that the proportion of cases within this age group increased among non-Hispanic White people from 33.8% to 77.3% between May 31-Sept. 5.
In an additional study conducted by the CDC, children of all ages now make up 10% of all U.S. cases, up from 2% in April, according to a Tuesday report by the American Academy of Pediatrics. And the CDC said Monday that the incidence of COVID-19 in school-age children began rising in early September as many kids returned to their classrooms.
About two times more teens were infected than younger children, the CDC report said. Most infected children have mild cases, and hospitalizations and death rates are much lower than in adults, according to the study.
Dr. Sally Goza, president of the American Academy of Pediatrics, said the rising numbers are a big concern and underscore the importance of masks, hand-washing, social distancing and other precautions.
“While children generally don’t get as sick with the coronavirus as adults, they are not immune and there is much to learn about how easily they can transmit it to others,’’ Goza said in a statement.
The CDC report did not indicate where or how the children became infected.Public health experts say the uptick probably reflects increasing spread of the virus in the larger community. While many districts require masks and other precautions, some spread in schools is thought to be occurring, too. But experts also say many school-aged children who are getting sick may not be getting infected in classrooms.
Just as cases in college students have been linked to partying and bars, schoolchildren may be contracting the virus at playdates, sleepovers, sports and other activities where precautions aren’t being taken, said Dr. Leana Wen, a public health specialist at George Washington University.
“Understandably, there is quarantine fatigue,’’ Wen said. Many people have a sense that if schools are reopening, then other activities can resume too, “but actually the opposite is true.”
Global school studies suggest in-person learning can be safe when transmission rates in the larger community are low, the CDC report said.
Mississippi and North Carolina are among several states where outbreaks among students and teachers have been reported since in-person classes resumed in July and August.
The University of North Carolina opened its campus on Aug. 3, transitioning from primarily remote learning in March.
The CDC reported 670 confirmed COVID-19 cases from Aug. 3-25, linked to clusters related to UNC student gatherings.
“Student gatherings and congregate living settings, both on and off campus, likely contributed to the rapid spread of COVID-19 within the university community,” wrote the CDC.
The healthy agency recommends a reduction in density of on-campus housing, increase COVID-19 testing and discouraging of student gatherings.
In Rhode Island, Gov. Gina Raimondo, a Democrat, this week blamed outbreaks at two colleges for a surge of virus cases that boosted the state's infection rate high enough to put it on the list of places whose residents are required to quarantine when traveling to New York, New Jersey and Connecticut.
The University of Wisconsin-Madison had seen more than 2,800 confirmed cases in students as of Friday.
The school shut down in-person instruction for two weeks, locked down two of its largest dorms, and imposed quarantines on more than a dozen sorority and fraternity houses. The school lifted the dorm lockdown just this week.
The Associated Press contributed to this report.