As the numbers come in on COVID-19 based on more testing we are gaining across the United States, doctors have determined that, for the most part, the elderly (70 and older) are more likely to succumb to the virus. Those with pre-existing medical conditions such as asthma, cancer, diabetes, and heart disease are also at great risk of becoming seriously ill from the virus. But the virus has seemed to have found an unexpected home in younger people. And while there are scatterings of it across the U.S., its footing looks to be planted more in the Southern region of the country. More precisely, seven states in the south, Georgia, Mississippi, Tennessee, Alabama, Arkansas, Kentucky, and Louisiana. Why the south and why younger people in the south?
According to data put together by the COVID Tracking Project, nearly one in 10 deaths across the U.S. comes from a four-state combination of Georgia, Louisiana, Mississippi, and Alabama. The virus is exploding in Louisiana, making it very likely to become the next epicenter of the pandemic. In southern Georgia, the virus has planted firm roots and is threatening to overburden Atlanta hospitals.
The numbers in Louisiana are startling. While the majority of reported deaths are still in patients over 70, a robust 43% of deaths in the state are from people under 70. The numbers in Georgia are even worse where nearly 49% of reported deaths are of people under 70. Granted, “under 70” is quite a large category, especially not knowing what truly is going on with those people. But to add to these concerning numbers is the fact that in Louisiana, 22% of all their deaths are coming from ages 40 to 59.
By comparison, in Washington state, where the coronavirus first landed in big numbers, their younger adults (those in the 40 to 59 age range) only make up around 6% of mortality rates. In Colorado, that same age group sees a death rate of 10%.
So, what gives? According to senior vice president, Tricia Neuman, of the Kaiser Family Foundation, the high numbers seen in the south may well point to underlying issues that could be the cause of worsening the pandemic in the south. “Due to high rates of conditions like lung disease and heart disease and obesity, the people living in these states are at risk if they get the virus,” she told The Atlantic. They aren’t “people who are sick, but these are people who have underlying comorbidities that put them at higher risk of serious illness if they get infected.”
There are a few factors in place that put younger people in the south at greater risk from the Coronavirus. Wealth, where the South region is the poorest in the country, and race, where poor, Latino, black or rural residents tend to not have access to top-notch doctors or quality care.
This not only affects the elderly population in the south but many of the younger ones too. When you add all this up, the lifestyle being lived in the south is not preparing them to fight off the coronavirus in the way they need to. Social distancing seems to be the best option they have at the moment.