As we see more COVID-19 cases, it is clear that the pandemic does not discriminate by age. Babies, adults in their 20s and 30s, they are all part of the list of patients who have tested positive around the world. Puerto Rico is no exception. The call to protect oneself and stay home is for everyone because we are all exposed to contracting this dangerous virus.
The Puerto Rican government confirmed eleven new cases yesterday, including a 26-year-old woman, two men aged 29 and 32, two women aged 48 and a woman aged 49. In California, the government reported that half of the confirmed cases are people between 18 and 49. In Spain, the youngest deceased person was under the age of 20.
Over 35 percent of confirmed reported cases in that country this week were under 50. Of that total, almost 19 percent (more than 6% of the total) had to be hospitalized. In South Korea, 30 percent of those who tested positive were between the ages of 20 and 29.
These data challenge the fallacy that young people are immune to the new strain of coronavirus. If this virus is more aggressive with older adults, it is mainly due to the high risk of previous health conditions that aggravate the disease.
Many young people have taken on the responsibility of protecting themselves from the virus. However, since the pandemic began to be detected in several countries and its impact on older adults, others have ignored the call to stay home to prevent the spread.
When authorities in countries such as Italy asked people to stay home, some young people took this as a holiday. Until last week, in places as close as Miami, groups showed their sense of invincibility, crowding beaches and public places.
Attitudes that put immediate pleasure before personal and social responsibility have been a catalyst in the spread of contagion.
The World Health Organization has warned young people that this virus can cause severe pneumonia, requiring hospitalization for weeks or even death. The organization insisted that, even if symptoms are mild, this population can make the difference between life and death for other people.
In Puerto Rico, risks for young people increase when considering trends in habits and diseases that make them more vulnerable. According to data from the Health Department, in fiscal year 2014-1015, 11 percent of those under 18 smoked. Almost 16 percent of children and teenagers had asthma, with higher prevalence among boys. Just this data places a good number of our young people among those at risk.
The fact that half our children and young people live in poverty, which represents higher levels of stress, weight problems, and other conditions associated with lack of access to healthy food, also joins those factors.
And it is also important to consider that 35 percent of grandparents lived with their grandchildren by 2017 and covered their basic needs. This represents a threat in two ways: if these under-18s ignore recommendations to stay home and social distance, they expose those who take care of them and cover their needs.
Hence, the persistent call for everyone to stay home, even if they do not have symptoms of the coronavirus.
This pandemic calls, especially, for young people to be the defensive front in Puerto Rico. They fulfill their mission by staying home during this period of distancing to protect themselves and the most vulnerable.