With bars and restaurants opening up right on the cusp of summer, it’s little to no surprise that young adults immediately flocked to their usual watering holes to escape isolation and return to some sense of normalcy.
Unfortunately, the good times appear to be linked to a rise in COVID-19 cases — specifically in southern Minnesota.
“We do have some cases in Steele County that are connected to some bar and restaurants in other counties,” said Amy Caron, the director of Steele County Public Health. “They’ve indicated through our case investigation that it’s likely where they picked it up.”
While Caron was unable to specifically identify what communities and businesses are being linked to the surge in COVID-19 cases among adults in their 20s, both the Minnesota Department of Health and Rice County Public Health have identified both Blue Earth County and the city of Mankato to be hot spots.
“Over in Mankato there have been some bars and restaurants that have closed because they’ve shown to have a spread happen there,” said Tracy Ackman-Shaw, the emergency preparedness coordinator for Rice County Public Health. “We’ve also seen it in La Crosse, Wisconsin, where people have attended an event and not practiced the right safety measures to prevent the spread.”
During a press conference Friday, MDH Director Kris Ehresmann stating that more than 100 cases of COVID-19 have been reported among Minnesotans in their 20s in the Mankato area who said they went to bars June 12 and 13 — the first weekend bars and restaurants were allowed to serve indoors. She identified Rounder and The 507 in Mankato as the focal points of that young adult outbreak, and added that a cluster of 30 cases at two Minneapolis bars - Cowboy Jack's and Kollege Klub, are currently being investigated.
While neither Caron nor Ackman-Shaw believe that there have been any contact traces back to local establishments, the two officials said that they know the hospitality industry in their respective counties is doing all it can to protect both its employees and its customers. Caron said that this month she received a handful of phone calls from local restaurants asking for advice on how to proceed with the best possible practices.
"Most all businesses are taking the precautions they need to," Caron said.
Ackman-Shaw agreed, but said that regardless of those safety measures that the spike in cases in young adults is the biggest jump throughout the entire state.
Out of Rice County’s 761 confirmed cases of COVID-19, people ages 20 to 39 make up 50% of them. In Steele County, 55% of the 209 confirmed cases have been in those ages 18 to 29. Since June 19, Le Sueur County had 23 new cases, 17 of which were people under the age of 25.
“While young adults may have a lower risk of severe illness and complications from COVID-19, they can become infected just as easily as anyone else can,” Le Sueur County Public Health Director Cindy Shaughnessy said in a Friday press release. “They in turn can spread COVID-19 inadvertently to others, including parents and grandparents who may be at greater risk for severe illness and death.”
Caron echoed Shaughnessy’s comments, adding that she has had to remind her own children who are in their 20s that while they may be able to recover from home if they contracted COVID-19 and that they could still transfer it to someone with an underlying condition who may not be able to handle it as well.
“They need to think beyond themselves a little bit,” Caron said regarding young adults. “There is a general consensus among them that ‘I’ll be fine, I won’t get that sick,’ but they could make other people really sick or may end up hospitalized.”
Ackman-Shaw said that despite young adults being well below the at-risk age group, that the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention recently released a new set of underlying conditions that put people at greater risk of COVID-19-related complications.
“Some of the complications include type 2 diabetes, kidney disease and even obesity,” Ackman-Shaw said. “We know that about 40% of our population is considered obese, so younger people could have some of these health risks.”
After months of staying at home, social distancing and quarantining, Ackman-Shaw said that she is not surprised that people are having a hard time continuing to adhere to the safety precautions that help prevent the spread of the virus.
“The state of where things are at right now — with all the isolation and distance encouraged — it impacts everyone,” she said. “But I think younger adults and teenagers who are very social and used to these social interaction have a completely different mindset.”
Caron said she also understands the difficulties that young adults are facing when it comes to the social distancing, adding that she is starting to hear more and more about how people want to just “live their life” despite the pandemic.
“I think we are all getting to the point that this is lasting for quite some time and don’t know when it’s going to end and we just want to be done with it,” Caron said. “People who were so cautious in the beginning, as time goes on it begins to wear on them. Everyone deals with it differently.”
Despite cracking under the pressure to maintain social distancing and staying at home at much as possible, Caron reminds southern Minnesotans that COVID-19 is still very real and being spread throughout the community.
“I think we have to take this mindset of trying to protect others, even if we’re maybe not as worried about our own self,” Caron said. “You could be effecting other people that could get really sick and may end up hospitalized.”
When most people who test positive for COVID-19 end up in the hospital, Caron said it’s usually due to upper respiratory distress. Patients struggle to breathe properly because of a “really heavy chest,” as Caron described, it is when they can end up in the ICU or on a respirator.
Ackman-Shaw said that while statistically, young adults are being shown that they will likely be fine, they need to also keep in mind that everything they do has an impact on their families and loved ones.
“You need to be conscious of your actions and taking all those precautions that we’ve been hearing about,” Ackman-Shaw said. “As the governor continues to turn the dial, we want to make sure that people are continuing to be safe while doing that so that we don’t have a big outbreak. Keep in mind, things aren’t back to normal yet. We may be able to do more things that feel normal, but we still have to treat it differently and make sure we stay safe while out.”