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Florida Doctor Urges Young Residents Not To Assume COVID-19 Is 'Benign'

People wait for health assessment check-in before entering Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on June 18. Miami-Dade County is easing some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus pandemic. Florida has recently experienced an increase in coronavirus cases.
People wait for health assessment check-in before entering Jackson Memorial Hospital in Miami on June 18. Miami-Dade County is easing some of the lockdown measures put in place during the coronavirus pandemic. Florida has recently experienced an increase in coronavirus cases.

Florida Gov. DeSantis recently announced a dramatic decline in the state's median age for coronavirus patients: from 65 years old in March to 37.

Dr. Cheryl Holder, an associate professor at Herbert Wertheim College of Medicine at Florida International University, says that's likely due to older people heeding warnings about how to stay healthy.

"It's really basically who gets exposed," Holder tells NPR. "If you look who is staying in and following the guidelines, [it's] older people who are at risk. The older folks got [the message]; the young people, not so much."

On Monday, Florida hit the grim milestone of more than 100,000 confirmed coronavirus cases, shortly after it reported a day of record-breaking new cases.

The records come after life in the state has resumed post-lockdown. Most of Florida is now in phase 2 of reopening; bars, movie theaters and tattoo parlors opened, with restrictions, earlier this month.

Holder is seeing the state's rise in coronavirus cases up close. She's treating coronavirus patients in Miami, one of the areas hardest hit by the spike in cases.

Here are excerpts of the interview:

Are you treating young people? Is there any sort of warning that you can give to younger people that even if you're not going to be on a ventilator, this is still a dangerous disease?

The issue I always tell my patients is that yeah, when you look at population studies, when you look a large group of numbers, yes, maybe a percentage won't get it, or maybe a percentage will not get it as badly, but will you be in that percentage? You have no clue that you will be that person who will be well. And also, even if you get this infection, we don't know what's going to happen 5, 10, 20 years down the line from an infection that we know so little about. So it's not just protecting you now, but it's protecting you for the future. I often tell my young patients, HPV – the human papillomavirus virus – was asymptomatic. Yet 10, 20 years down the line, we're seeing cervical cancer, we're seeing penile cancers. So you can't really rest on the fact that a disease that is new, that we know very little about, is going to be so benign, that it's just a little cold – it's not. ...

I don't think the message has been clear enough, so I can't say young folks are being disobedient and invincible completely. But because the message hasn't been consistent, and we see many times people are out without masks, and they seem to be well, that we will take a chance. Everyone's ability to take risk varies. And younger people will take more risks. But it shouldn't be used against them, if we consistently as a community speak clearly and speak that this is the best method to protect you and protect others: to socially distance, use your mask, use a face shield — that may be even better.

Are you saying we should go to face shields?

We may have to because looking at the data, it protects the eyes, protects the nose, the mouth, and it may be easier to use. ...

It's not airborne, but if somebody is speaking and the droplets come out at you, it's anything to protect you. The key is we've got to protect ourselves and our communities until a vaccine comes in or even proper treatment.

Listen to the full interview at the audio link above.

Copyright 2020 NPR. To see more, visit https://www.npr.org.