Younger Tennesseans have highest COVID-19 infection rate—why?

Story by Kristi Jones/ Contributing Writer

As COVID-19 cases rise in Tennessee, younger adults are surpassing all other age groups in the number of cases throughout the state.

Tennessee has more than 4,000 confirmed cases according to the Tennessee Department of Health. Among 21 to 30 year-olds, 905 individuals have tested positive, over 20 percent of the entire state’s cases.

The next highest age range is the 51-60 demographic with 644 confirmed cases, just over 18 percent of all total cases. These numbers were updated last on April 8.

These numbers are opposite what other states in the country are reporting. Most states show that older populations, the group that is most vulnerable to COVID-19, have the most positive tests.

Washington State Department of Health reported that 34 percent of the state’s cases are among 40-59-year-olds. The next highest, at 27 percent, are ages 20-29 and 26 percent of the cases are adults 60-79.

The California Department of Public Health shows that there are over 6,700 cases in the 18-49 age range and over 6,600 cases in adults 50 and older.  Because California does not break down groups into narrower age ranges, it’s difficult to know how their younger patients are faring.

One reason why Tennessee is unlike other states could be because young adults are not taking the precautions seriously.

“There has been some communication that the younger age groups are more interactive with less social distancing so there is an increased spread by proximity. We’ll have to see what data is overtime to confirm,” said Eric Clark, medical director of MTSU Student Health Services.

Social distancing is designed to protect the vulnerable, both state and national health leaders have reiterated. This is crucial to the safety of those at higher risk.

“This is the most crucial part of staying safe. Tennesseans need to be vigilant,” Gov. Bill Lee said after issuing the statewide “stay at home” order on April 2.

”Thankfully most MTSU students fit the demographic of young healthy people, so when they become ill with this they tend to have complete resolution of symptoms without complication,” Clark said.

From the latest data, there should be no long-term effects for young adults who contract the virus, according to Clark.

MTSU students have opinions on the pandemic and the fact that young adults are getting ill just as much and more than what was expected because they continue to go out.

“I personally feel that it’s just a mutated version of the flu, but that being said I still think it should be taken seriously due to all the damage it’s doing. My annoyance is also due to the fact that people are still ignoring the warnings and going about life as if it’s normal,” Austin Thompson, a freshman said.

Younger people tend to have mild to no symptoms. Consequently, they continue to hang out and unknowingly pass the virus to others.

Ireland Tate, a 21-year-old Nashville woman who was a normal, healthy young adult, was not afraid of the coronavirus. “I’m aware that we’re supposed to be self-quarantining and social distancing and all these things to keep everyone safe. Cool. I get it…I just don’t think that I’m going to get the virus,” Tate said in a viral social media video in late March— because two days after posting it, she became ill with the virus.

“It feels like someone is sitting on my chest at all times. It’s really hard to breathe. I’ve coughed until my throat has bled,” Tate told FOX17 in Nashville.

Tate says her outlook has changed because harming someone else is not guilt that she believes she can carry.

Meanwhile, two MTSU students have been diagnosed with the virus. According to university officials, both are quarantining in Womack Apartments on campus.

Gov. Lee is continuing to update the people on upcoming strategies and plans. The state is providing personal protective equipment to all counties that have been affected in the state.

See Sidelines’ daily COVID-19 numbers here.

Watch Governor Lee’s daily updates here.

Read Coronavirus updates from the Tennessee State government here.

To contact Editor-in-Chief Angele Latham, email

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