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Data Suggest Young People Spread COVID-19 To Older Adults

NOEL KING, HOST:

President Trump really wants there to be a coronavirus vaccine before the election. He's made that clear. But it's looking unlikely. The Food and Drug Administration is reportedly going to issue tougher safety guidelines for vaccine approval. The president responded to that last night by saying, quote, "The White House will decide."

NPR's Will Stone has been following this one. Good morning, Will.

WILL STONE, BYLINE: Good morning.

KING: Can you explain this disagreement between the FDA and President Trump?

STONE: Yes. The FDA has not issued any new guidelines yet, but they could come this week. And it's been reported they would make it impossible for a coronavirus vaccine to be authorized before the November election. This is something the president has said repeatedly he wants, so Trump was clearly not happy to hear this. He called it a political move. And this came on a day that the FDA commissioner, Stephen Hahn, testified before a Senate committee. And he said when it comes to a coronavirus vaccine, quote, "Science rules." And he assured the committee that politics would not be a factor. So once again, the president is undercutting his own public health experts.

KING: Let's talk about the science, then, and leave the politics aside. The CDC has been looking into who or what is driving a new surge in infections in certain parts of the country. What have they found?

STONE: Well, the CDC looked at data from the summer, and it turns out that 20-year-olds accounted for the largest share of new infections. In fact, more than 20% of all confirmed cases were in that age group. There were some regional differences, but this basic pattern was true for the entire country. So it's clear that young adults are behind the spread. I spoke to Dr. Kirsten Bibbens-Domingo about this. She's a public health professor at the University of California, San Francisco. And she says, remember; when we opened the economy, the message was high-risk people, older people, need to be careful. And younger people were essentially told to get back to work.

KIRSTEN BIBBENS-DOMINGO: Some of this is entirely predictable by who stayed home and who was out there on the front lines. On the other hand, we also know it was summertime. People wanted to be out and socializing again. I think there clearly are behavioral patterns in young adults that also feed into this.

STONE: Meaning they'll take more risks - they'll hang out in groups, go to bars, restaurants - you know, all the behavior that keeps this virus circulating.

KING: And they are less likely to get really sick. So what is the big concern about so many of them getting infected?

STONE: Yeah. The worry is young people do not exist in a vacuum. And when they get infected, eventually, that can infect people in other age groups. And that's actually exactly what happened in Southern states. The CDC numbers show that first there was a spike in cases among young adults, and then within a week or two weeks, there was also a jump in cases for older adults - people over 60. And of course, that age group is much more likely to be hospitalized and die if they have COVID.

KING: So we have kids going back to college campuses right now as we speak. Are we going to see more of this?

STONE: That's the big concern. We already are seeing outbreaks on campuses, and we know this virus doesn't just stay put. And some of the communities around colleges are seeing spikes. And an added challenge is that young adults don't tend to be as symptomatic, which makes it even harder to pick up all the new cases before others also get infected.

KING: NPR's Will Stone. Thanks for your reporting, Will. We appreciate it.

STONE: Thank you.

(SOUNDBITE OF CAVES OF STEEL'S "MY FUTURE IS BRIGHT") Transcript provided by NPR, Copyright NPR.