INDIANAPOLIS — As Indiana opens up, cases of COVID-19 are showing up in younger Hoosiers more and more.
And while younger people are less likely to have serious complications or die, their role as transmitters of the virus are of continuing concern to state officials.
On Wednesday, Indiana Gov. Eric Holcomb and State Health Commissioner Dr. Kris Box took time to address a rising percentage of infections being found in younger Hoosiers.
Although people 60 years old and older have accounted for 92% of the nearly 2,400 COVID-19 deaths in the state, infections have always been more common in people younger than 60.
Two months ago, people younger than 60 accounted for 63.4% of all cases, compared to 36.6% of patients older than 60.
In the time since, that proportion has shifted even more toward younger people, with people less than 60 years old now accounting for 70.7% of all cases, compared to 29.3% for Hoosiers 60-plus.
Locally, LaGrange and Noble counties have higher-than-average proportions of older residents sick with COVID-19. In LaGrange County, the ratio of cases in people 60-plus is 40.5%, while it’s 37.1% in Noble County, which has battled outbreaks in local nursing homes.
In DeKalb and Steuben counties, however, the proportion is much lower and lower than the statewide average. Just 21.5% of cases in Steuben County are residents 60 and older, while in DeKalb County it’s only 18.6% older than 60.
While some of that shift is attributable to a shift in testing patterns — in the past tests were reserved for the most sick people, who were more likely to be older people — the change in proportion is also attributable to more younger people getting ill.
Holcomb and Box suggested that part of the reason why is ongoing observation around the state of younger people being less likely to comply with safety measures like keeping social distancing and wearing masks.
A recent KPC Media Group poll showed that 54% of more than 1,900 respondents in northeast Indiana don’t wear masks when out in public.
“Maybe our elders are being smart about this and are hunkering down … and maybe — this might be a little unfair — but, maybe the younger folks are being a little bit sloppy,” Holcomb said.
“It’s still affecting the older generation, so we still lost too many Hoosiers through this all.”
Health officials have repeatedly stressed that, yes, young people are less likely to get seriously ill. But the primary concern is that younger Hoosiers will transmit the virus — often unknowingly as about 43% of cases are carried asymptomatically — to people who are more likely to get seriously ill or die.
“I think it’s our younger adults that feel invincible. It’s not really what’s going to happen to them, it’s the people they take those infections home to,” Box said.
Just because the state has made good progress reopening, just because businesses are open and gathering sizes have increased doesn’t mean the threat is over, Box said.
“This is not business as usual. Everything is not back to the way it was before COVID-19 entered our vocabulary,” Box said. “You are not putting just yourself at risk. You’re putting your friends, your family, your elderly neighbor and anyone you come into contact with potentially at risk.”
Box again made a plea she’s made week after week to Hoosiers regardless of their age, but especially geared toward younger people:
“Please wear a mask when you’re out in public, social distance and, if you won’t do it for yourself, do it for everyone else,” Box said.