A rite of passage. A ritual, of sorts. Something to look forward to for so many young people.
Prom. Graduation. Summer.
But the coronavirus stripped the class of 2020 and other young people of a regular experience of those events, some of which have been anticipated for years.
It was a massive blow, especially after being in their homes for months with family because of stay-at-home or safer-at-home orders imposed by Michigan Gov. Gretchen Whitmer that were lifted at the beginning of June.
The rules loosened, and the party planning began.
Unofficial proms, grad parties, sleepovers, yard parties, gatherings at the lake and just hanging out with friends.
The problem is, health officials say, mask wearing and social distancing went out the window. Now, they are seeing the number of positive COVID-19 cases in younger people on the rise in Michigan as well as spots across the United States and the world.
“Evidence suggests that spikes of cases in some countries are being driven in part by younger people letting their guard down during the Northern Hemisphere summer,” World Health Organization Director-General Dr. Tedros Adhanom Ghebreyesus said July 30.
“We have said it before and we will say it again: Young people are not invincible. Young people can be infected; young people can die, and young people can transmit the virus to others,” he said.
Kayleigh Blaney, an epidemiologist with the Oakland County Health Division – which last week reported with two other counties a spike in positive cases among 15- to 19-year-olds – agreed.
More: Teens in 3 Michigan counties hit by COVID-19 outbreak – and parties may be to blame
“You’re not gonna stop kids 15 to 19 who are not in school, with nothing to do, from hanging out with each other,” she said. “People are itching to get back to normal. I understand completely. I would love to get back to our old normal in time, but we are pushing ourselves to being more restricted again.”
A Free Press analysis of state coronavirus data shows that after Whitmer’s orders were starting to lift June 1, those in the 0- to 19-year-old age group began to see a slightly faster rise in cases.
Cases among 0- to 19-year-olds have been slowly increasing since mid-July. Also, 20- to 29-year-olds have seen an increase, now accounting for a higher percentage of COVID-19 cases than people in their 30s or people in their 40s.
Before June, children and teens mostly made up 1% to 3% of COVID-19 cases in Michigan. A month after the order lifted, July 1, that age group made up 3.9% of the cases. During the past two weeks, from July 21 to Aug. 7, the age group saw an increase in cases of almost 2 percentage points: 5.7% to 7.4%.
The number of cases for the 20- to 29-year-old demographic also surpassed those in their 40s on July 24. The twenty-somethings are now almost at the same positive case level as the 50- to 59-year-olds at 16%. Cases among people older than 39 have been slowly making up a smaller percentage of the population with 60- to 69-year-olds seeing the most improvement.
Last week, health departments in Oakland, Livingston and Genesee counties reported more than 100 teens testing positive since mid-July, due, in part, to at least a half-dozen large indoor and outdoor gatherings in recent weeks in the South Lyon and Fenton areas.
The teens are in the 15- to 19-year-old age group, and their conditions range from asymptomatic to mild symptoms.
On Tuesday, Oakland County announced that virus cases in this age group in the South Lyon area increased from three cases in the late June to mid-July time period to 42 cases in mid-July to early August.
Since that data release – from Tuesday through Thursday – the county said it has 48 more potential COVID-19 cases in this age group, with eight of them in the South Lyon area. Officials don’t have addresses in five cases. The remaining cases are spread throughout the county, said Bill Mullan, spokesman for County Executive Dave Coulter.
Blaney said photos on social media of some of the parties, such as one that had about 70 young people standing shoulder-to-shoulder in long gowns and suits, show: “There’s not e…