PROVIDENCE, R.I. (WPRI) — The typical age of a Rhode Islander testing positive for coronavirus has fallen rapidly since the state moved forward with reopening, alarming state officials who want to avoid the sorts of outbreaks being seen in the South and West.
The average age of the nearly 400 Rhode Islanders who tested positive for the first time last week was 38 years old, the youngest age recorded since the state began tracking the number in early March, according to R.I. Department of Health data requested by Target 12.
It was the third straight week the average new case was someone in their 30s, something that had never previously been seen since the state expanded testing to all symptomatic individuals in April.
The average age for new cases in Rhode Island peaked at 55 years old back during the week ending April 4, and as recently as the week ending June 20 the average age was 48 years old, the data shows.
Gov. Gina Raimondo moved Rhode Island to Phase 2 of her reopening plan on June 1, and then to Phase 3 on June 30. Public health officials have said it takes at least two weeks to begin to see signs of how reduced restrictions affect the spread of the virus.
“This is something that we have been watching for a few weeks,” Health Department spokesperson Joseph Wendelken told Target 12 in an email. “This is why Dr. [Nicole] Alexander-Scott has been emphasizing the need for people of all ages to take steps to prevent the spread of disease.”
The proportion of younger adults testing positive for COVID-19 could also becoming more prominent, especially recently as fewer nursing home residents have tested positive for the disease.
As of last Friday, the Health Department reported fewer than 10 nursing home residents had tested positive for the disease within the prior two weeks, signaling a slower pace than the last few months. More than 2,660 nursing home residents have contracted COVID-19 since March 1.
The new demographic data emerged on the same day Rhode Island reported a daily total for new COVID-19 cases above 100 for the first time in a month, as the state enters its third week of Phase 3 of reopening.
Alexander-Scott, the Health Department director, and Raimondo both publicly expressed alarm about the growing prevalence of COVID-19 among younger residents during a briefing on June 29, after the average age had dropped from 48 to 39 years old the prior week.
“You guys aren’t following the rules,” Raimondo said. “We need you to do better.”
Wendelken said the Health Department is now examining ways of reinforcing public health directives with residents in their 20s and 30s. “Younger people are a focus of some new communications we are going to be rolling out about mask wearing,” he said.
Ted Nesi (email@example.com) is WPRI 12’s politics and business editor and a Target 12 investigative reporter. He is a weekly panelist on Newsmakers and hosts Executive Suite. Follow him on Twitter and Facebook