Love Park is empty during the coronavirus lockdown

More than half of the coronavirus patients in Philadelphia are people younger than 40 years old, according to new city data.

That tracks with the early outbreak patterns being seen in other nations and cities, including New York City, the epicenter of the crisis in the U.S.

As of Wednesday, Philadelphia officials identified 342 residents as having tested positive for the virus. Of those, a dozen are under the age of 20 and a whopping 163 ranged between 20 and 39.

While they’re statistically the least likely demographic to die from COVID-19, more studies are now cementing the medical risk for millennials and Gen-Zers around the globe. New U.S. data shows up to a fifth of patients between 20 and 44 have ended up in the hospital after showing symptoms. This week, a teenager who died in Los Angeles, Calif., recently became one of the youngest suspected victims of the pandemic in the U.S.

The city on Wednesday announced the death of the first resident from the virus — a 50-year-old man with an undisclosed underlying medical condition. A handful of the under-40 cases have ended up hospitalized, according to Health Commissioner Dr. Tom Farley.

What’s driving the youth cases in Philly isn’t exactly clear. Health officials warn against drawing conclusions based on the early data.

Health officials say they are tracking contacts made by some infected residents. However, the ballooning volume of cases prevents the city from compiling data on every patient’s movements beyond basic demographic information.

“I can simply say the first wave of this epidemic is younger adults because these are the people who are more likely to travel to places like Europe,” Farley said Wednesday. “Over time probably the demographics of the people with the infection will change.”

Health officials worldwide have warned that younger people are accelerating the transmission of the disease. White House’s coronavirus response coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx described them as “the core group that will stop the virus.”

Best practices from every level of government boil down to this: stay home.

Avoid groups. Avoid travel. Practice good hygiene. On Wednesday, Farley also asked anyone in Philly who recently returned from the New York metro area to voluntarily quarantine at home for at least 14 days.

“We certainly expect more deaths in the future,” Farley said. “We can’t save everyone. We want to save as many people as possible, which is why we’re taking all the steps we can to slow the spread of this infection.”

Philadelphia officials are also concerned about young people not taking the city’s stay-at-home order seriously.

Councilmember Isaiah Thomas, one of the legislature’s few under-40 members, says his office has been trying to encourage younger constituents to recognize the danger.

“This is a time to creatively connect with others and stay engaged from the comfort of our own homes,” Thomas said. “We are not invincible and this disease does not discriminate. We have to work together to get to the other side of this.”

Stay informed about the pandemic in our region:

Max Marin (he/him) was Billy Penn's investigative reporter from 2018 to 2021. A graduate of Temple University, he has produced award-winning journalism on local politics, criminal justice, immigration...