Young people fueling recent spike of coronavirus in Americas, U.N. agency says

Medical staff are seen looking after a patient inside military hospital at the Heroic Military Academy which takes care of patients with symptoms of the coronavirus disease (COVID-19),in Mexico City, Mexico August 20, 2020. (REUTERS/Carlos Jasso)

Young people are driving the spread of the coronavirus in the Americas, the head of the Pan American Health Organization (PAHO) said on Tuesday, noting that both deaths and caseloads have doubled in the region over the past six weeks.

Briefing reporters on a webcast, Dr. Carissa Etienne chastised governments that have rushed economic re-openings despite data that shows a worsening pandemic.

“This is not a good sign. Wishing the virus away will not work,” she said, detailing what she described as a “real disconnect” between the relaxation of containment measures and the continuing spread of the virus.

The PAHO is the Washington-based Americas arm of the U.N. World Health Organization.

Since July, coronavirus cases in the Americas have more than doubled to about 12 million confirmed infections, while deaths have shot up by roughly the same rate to some 450,000, according to PAHO data.

Etienne said that “the vast majority” of reported COVID-19 cases in the Americas have been among those between the ages of 19 and 59, but that almost 70% of deaths have been among individuals who are 60 years old or older.

“This indicates that younger people are primarily driving the spread of the disease in our region,” she said.

A recent uptick in cases in several Caribbean nations including the Bahamas is also a growing concern, said Etienne, with new infections not only driven by tourism but also returning residents.

Overall, governments should base their re-opening decisions on the best available data and expand testing and contract tracing programs to better identify and control spikes in cases, she said.

Six of the world’s 10 most affected countries are in the Americans, said Etienne, pointing to the United States, Brazil, Mexico, Colombia, Peru and Argentina.

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