COVID-19 rising among young people as bars and restaurants reopen

Looking at the crowds of young people at some bars and restaurants this past weekend, you’d think there was no COVID crisis. But in reality, it’s spreading faster among young people than any other group.

“In New Jersey, we have seen an increase in the percentage of cases between the ages of 18 and 29,” New Jersey Department of Health Commissioner Judith Persichilli said during Tuesday’s daily press briefing. “In April, this age group represented 12% of the cases. That has risen to 22% of the cases in June. And while we know that some of this increase can be attributed to an increase in access to testing, we are still concerned about this trend.”

Gov. Phil Murphy and Persichilli were especially concerned with large crowds at the bar D’Jais in Belmar. Videos on social media showed people dancing and drinking in close quarters with no masks.

Tashmoo Bar & Restaurant in Morristown also caught their attention, with crowds too large for the space and guests also ignoring safety guidelines. Tashmoo’s outdoor dining license has now been revoked. It’s something the governor plans to enforce statewide for any bad actors.

“If we see businesses refuse to comply with the common sense and lifesaving guidance that we have put in place, we will have no choice but to begin making examples out of them,” Murphy said on Tuesday.

Jersey City also saw large crowds behaving recklessly.

NJTV News reached out to Mayor Steve Fulop and Belmar Mayor Mark Walsifer to ask about penalties for businesses breaking the rules. Neither administration has responded.

But to bar-goers, the governor warns against thinking they’re immune.

“I know many people think that just because the weather is hot, they can’t catch the coronavirus that causes COVID-19 and I know many young people think this virus isn’t after them. In every case, I hate to tell you, you’re wrong,” Murphy said.

At the start of the pandemic, the prevailing theory was young people fared very well with the disease. Fast forward to June, and the nation’s leading infectious disease specialist is now cautioning otherwise.

“Thinking that young people have no deleterious consequences is not true. We’re seeing more and more complications in young people,” said Dr. Anthony Fauci, director of the National Institute of Allergy and Infectious Diseases.

“I think that we’re starting to understand COVID more every day. So, so far we’ve had over 600 people in that age group, that 18 to 29, who’ve been hospitalized. So this isn’t a matter that they’re not being touched at all, there are some significant consequences,” said Montclair State University professor and epidemiologist Stephanie Silvera.

Silvera says in New Jersey around 15 people in that age group have died. She says the environments they’re hanging out in now can lead to even greater risk.

“If you’re out and you’re drinking, your inhibitions are a little bit lower; 6 feet doesn’t seem like 6 feet anymore. You might be more likely, like I said, to meet someone you’ve never met, become romantically engaged with them and now your risk has gone up quite a bit,” Silvera said.

But still, many will be infected and show no symptoms, so the concern that they’ll spread it to their loved ones remains at the forefront.

“It certainly is a time for the younger generation to give back to everyone around them and to the older generations,” said Persichilli.

The governor says a mask and 6 feet is all it takes.