The state’s top health official says the key to slowing the spread of COVID-19 could be finding a way to reach the people who believe they’re the least likely to get infected or suffer ill effects.
Dr. Cara Christ said the biggest group of positive test results is now among those age 20 through 44.
“They’re likely not the ones that are going to have the outcomes and the risk factors from COVID-19,’’ she told Capitol Media Services.
“But we need everybody to keep in mind that all of us have connections to loved ones and family members that are high risk or people out in the community,’’ Christ said. “And that’s what we’re trying to protect by containing the spread.’’
The trick now, she said, is crafting a message that is designed with that audience in mind because “we do want to see these numbers come down and we want to see the percent positivity go down.”
That means convincing individuals to act safely – including those who may believe that even if they don’t think they’re invincible that contracting the virus won’t really hurt them.
And that, Christ said, comes back to the messages of physically distancing and wearing a mask while out in public when staying six feet from others is impossible.
That message is not getting across to those in the 20 to 44-year-old demographic, she said, as evidenced by the high number of people in that age group who are testing positive – and as shown by videos of people crowding bars without masks.
These are the people who are less likely to suffer severe adverse effects. But they’re clearly coming down with and probably transmitting the disease.
Of more than 43,000 confirmed cases of COVID-19 so far, more than 46 percent fall into that age group but make up less than a third of the population.
Yet they’re not dying at the same rate of the disease, accounting for just 67 of the more than 1,300 deaths.
Christ said exhortations for these people to protect themselves apparently does not work. So that, she said, requires a change in the message.
“We need everyone to think about, ‘You may not feel sick, you may not think that you’ve been infected,’ ‘’ Christ said.
“So, it’s really important that if you are going to be within six feet of somebody, you have got to wear that mask,’’ she said.
Christ said it may not be that younger people see themselves as invincible.
“I think a pandemic and a virus, they’re scary things, they’re hard to comprehend,’’ she said. “And I think if you are not seeing the direct outcomes, you may not think that it applies.’’
“A lot of them have grandparents and loved ones that they love and don’t want to see anything happen to,’’ Christ said. “This is really, really dangerous for those you love and so we need to do everything we can to protect them.’’
The problem, according to Gov. Doug Ducey, extends to those even younger.
The governor said that, for a long time, he didn’t personally know anyone who had the virus.
“But just recently, I know a lot of people that have contracted this,’’ he said. “And I want to tell you where they contracted this: at graduation parties, at private gatherings in homes.’’
Christ said reaching this group isn’t a simple matter of telling them that, while they won’t get sick, they can bring the disease home to others.
“That’s not going to work with them,’’ she said.
One thing she said her agency has learned is that, when dealing with teens, it’s probably best that the message isn’t coming from the government.
“It probably should come from a trusted source for that group,’’ Christ said.