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As COVID-19 surges across Washington, young people account for growing number of cases

The median age for people diagnosed with coronavirus in Spokane County has dropped to 31 years old, whereas that number sat at 54 just a few weeks ago.

SPOKANE, Wash. — Coronavirus cases are rising across the country as many states relax social distancing measures. This includes Washington state, where health officials are pointing to a growing number of cases in young adults. 

Reports released by the Washington State Department of Health (DOH) and Institute for Disease Modeling (IDM) in Bellevue point to recent increases of COVID-19 among younger people. 

People under the age of 35 in Washington state represented 22% of cases from January to March, according to the data. They represented 46% cases of cases throughout the state by May and June. 

This trend is also happening at the local level in Spokane County.

As of Thursday, 647 out of 1,485 cases in the county are in people 20 to 39 years old, according to data from the Spokane Regional Health District. That equates to more than 43% of the total number of cases in Spokane County. 

More than half of the 70 new cases reported in Spokane County on Thursday alone were in people ages 20 to 39.

All people under the age of 39 who have contracted coronavirus account for 57% of total cases in the county. 

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The median age for people diagnosed with coronavirus in Spokane County also dropped to 31 years old, whereas that number sat at 54 years old just a few weeks ago, Spokane County Health Officer Dr. Bob Lutz said this week. 

“We truly have community spread. We truly have an outbreak that is not being contained at this point," he added.

Additionally, health leaders in Spokane County suggested this week that tens of thousands of people may have had coronavirus without knowing it since the pandemic began. Many of these people may be those who are younger and asymptomatic, they added. 

Communities of color in Washington are also affected disproportionately by coronavirus. IDM’s report in particular examines changes in the race of COVID-19 cases over time.

Cases are increasingly concentrated in Hispanic people, who have accounted for 58% of COVID-19 cases with known race and ethnicity since the beginning of May despite making up only 13% of the state’s population. They may be at higher risk of infections for several reasons, including living in larger households, limited access to healthcare and working in essential services, according to the DOH. 

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Recent data also show Native American or Other Pacific Islander people to be at the highest risk of diseases on a per capita base. 

During May and June, Hispanic people were 13 times more likely and Native Hawaiian or Pacific Islander people were 17 times more likely to contract COVID-19 compared to white people. 

These groups are largely the same as those that have been disproportionately impacted in previous months, but the disparities are growing, the DOH said. 

“Public health interventions worked early in the COVID-19 epidemic to control cases, but communities of color experienced less of that benefit,” said Dr. Marita Zimmermann, a research economist at IDM. “Now more and more young people of color in Washington are getting infected. COVID-19 exploits the inequities in health and wellbeing in our society, and this analysis sheds light on the people most in need of protection.”

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