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Young people are still going out, despite rising rates of coronavirus hospitalization

Young people are making up a large proportion of the new coronavirus infections being seen across the U.S. In some states, such as Arizona and Florida, people under 45 account for more than half of all cases. Doctors are warning that young people need to take more precautions -- not only to keep from spreading the virus to older Americans, but for their own health as well. Stephanie Sy reports.

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  • Judy Woodruff:

    Young people make up a large portion of the new COVID-19 cases that are being seen across the U.S. In some states, like Arizona and Florida, people under 45 account for more than half of all cases.

    As Stephanie Sy reports, doctors are warning that young people need to take more precautions, not only to keep from spreading the virus to older Americans, but for their own sakes as well.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    When Florida eased its lockdown and allowed restaurants and bars to reopen, 22-year-old Nikki Cortland was excited about the possibility of going out. She'd followed stay-at-home orders for more than two months.

  • Nikki Cortland:

    The officials were coming on TV, the governor, and stating that things were reopening and they were putting all of these safety measures into action.

  • Gov. Ron DeSantis:

    I mean, if people go enjoy, have a drink, it's fine.

  • Nikki Cortland:

    So, I began thinking, OK, you know, I just graduated college. I miss my friends. Why not have one weekend in Orlando?

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Armed with hand sanitizer and masks, Cortland and her friends went to dinner and then a bar.

  • Nikki Cortland:

    It was pretty crowded, I would say. You definitely did not socially distance.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    A few days later, Cortland got a fever. She tested positive for COVID-19. So did 30 other people she knew who went to the same bar.

  • Nikki Cortland:

    I'm just trying to stay really calm ,but it's really hard.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Cortland's case was relatively mild, but she said it was still a horrible experience.

  • Nikki Cortland:

    I will never forget sitting there and watching the clock go from 3:00 a.m., 4:00 a.m., 5:00 a.m., 6:00 a.m., and not being able to get a deep breath, and being alone.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Cortland has been using her YouTube channel to warn others that COVID-19 should not be taken lightly.

  • Nikki Cortland:

    I just want them to understand that it can happen to you.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Many aren't getting the message.

    Several states have closed bars again, but young people are still going out. A survey from the Democracy Fund and UCLA found that, during the first week of August, nearly half of Gen Z-ers and more than 40 percent of millennials socialized with people without maintaining social distancing.

    That's compared to 14 percent of baby boomers. And while, statistically speaking, the younger you are, the less likely you are to be hospitalized for COVID, so many young adults are catching the virus that there are now more people age 18 to 49 who have been hospitalized than people age 50 to 64.

  • Pratik Doshi:

    A lot of young people are getting sick.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Dr. Pratik Doshi works at Memorial Hermann Hospital in Houston.

  • Pratik Doshi:

    I have seen multiple 20s, lots of 40s and 50s that are out there right now that are getting sick. And they are ending up in the ICU and not doing well.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Doshi says people can't assume they're low risk just because they are young.

  • Pratik Doshi:

    There is a big difference between chronological age and physiological age. There's lots of 30-year-olds who are inactive, obese, that physiologically may be more like a 60-year-old.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    As a whole, there is evidence that millennials aren't as healthy as past generations. A Blue Cross/Blue Shield Association survey found last year that people born between 1981 and 1996 are more likely than Gen X to have health conditions such as high blood pressure, high cholesterol and diabetes, all risk factors for COVID-19.

    But even young healthy people have gotten severe and even deadly cases of COVID.

    Yvette Paz is a 30-year-old single mom, Army veteran and hard-core workout buff who lives in Los Angeles. She didn't think much of it when she woke up one day in March with a searing headache and body aches.

  • Yvette Paz:

    I noticed a burning sensation in my eyes and a heaviness in my body, a very, very sore feeling, almost like I had a really, really big workout.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    The symptoms got worse. She tested positive for COVID and was hospitalized that same day. She chronicled her experience on social media.

  • Yvette Paz:

    My doctor just left. He just notified me that I guess my white blood cells have been dropping really fast since yesterday, which is a little concerning.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    One night, she says, she feared for her life.

  • Yvette Paz:

    I'm in the hospital bed. I feel like my lungs now are totally immobile. I'm trying to breathe. I'm frantically pushing this button to get the nurse.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    She eventually caught her breath and was released from the hospital after a total of five days. Three months on, she's feeling much better, but still has lingering side effects.

  • Yvette Paz:

    I do get winded a lot easier than before.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    That's common among COVID patients, and doctors say they are still learning how COVID-19 can cause long-term lung damage.

  • Ankit Bharat:

    We think that some of these patients may behave like a group of patients with lung fibrosis, pulmonary fibrosis or interstitial lung disease.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Last month, Dr. Ankit Bharat performed a double lung transplant on 28-year-old Mayra Ramirez after she was hospitalized with COVID-19.

  • Ankit Bharat:

    In these patients, we see a lot of bleeding into the lung, but also formation of blood clots. And they start to form a lot of scar tissue. There are a lot of cavities that form inside the lungs.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Ramirez has an autoimmune condition that might have made her more susceptible to the virus. She has since begun her recovery.

  • Mayra Ramirez:

    With the help of my family and support from the community and from my medical team, slowly, but surely, things have gotten a lot better.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    New research shows COVID can cause lung damage even in asymptomatic patients. Then there's the mental health toll.

    In the U.K., psychiatrists have recommended screening COVID-19 patients for post-traumatic stress disorder. Yvette Paz knows firsthand how traumatizing COVID-19 can be.

  • Yvette Paz:

    Mentally, it's horrible. I mean, I was having dreams where I died in the hospital.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    Her experience brought back the PTSD she had from her time in the military. And, in recent weeks, she's developed agoraphobia, a fear of going outside.

  • Yvette Paz:

    I went out to a store one day, and I was in line, and I freaked out. And I noticed that this was happening more and more. So there's only certain places that I can go to where I feel safe.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    For Paz, the worst part of COVID-19 is the uncertainty, the uncertainty about whether it's damaged her lungs for good, and about whether she could get the disease again.

    Doctors say, over the last few months, they have learned how to better treat the virus, but there's still a lot they don't know.

  • Pratik Doshi:

    We don't know what's going to be — whether you're going to get really sick or not. All we know is, it's possible. That's the challenge. This is a brand-new virus. This has never affected the human race before.

  • Stephanie Sy:

    And it's why, experts say, all humans, even young ones, should stay on guard.

    For the "PBS NewsHour," I'm Stephanie Sy.

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