A large “beach week” gathering in Myrtle Beach, South Carolina, appears to be a major source of a COVID-19 outbreak among young people from Virginia’s Loudoun County.
“Beginning last week, we saw an increase in adolescents” testing positive for COVID-19, county health director Dr. David Goodfriend told WTOP on Tuesday, adding that the doctor of one of the patients tipped officials off to the possibility of the Myrtle Beach trip as a factor.
“We have about 100 folks who recently went down to Myrtle Beach as part of a high school age-related trip,” though it wasn’t an official school trip, Goodfriend said, “who we know have come back positive as a result of that trip.”
He said there’s been an outbreak of the virus in Myrtle Beach itself as well.
Goodfriend’s message to the public: “If you were part of this trip, consider that you may have been infected.”
If you have symptoms, consider getting tested, he said; if you don’t, but you’ve been within 6 feet of any of these patients for 10 minutes, you should stay home.
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“Stay home; isolate. If you’re a close contact of those individuals, quarantine at home,” Goodfriend said. “Let’s keep this an isolated, though large, outbreak.”
A big jump among the young
In the last week, Loudoun County’s Department of Health has seen a significant increase in positive coronavirus tests among people between the ages of 10 and 19, and 20 and 29.
A county news release posted Monday said in just the last week, 150 people between ages 16 and 18 tested positive for the virus that causes COVID-19, and more than half of the county’s positive cases in that time period came from those 29 or younger.
There are a couple of relative bright sides: Contact tracing isn’t terribly difficult for people of this age, Goodfriend said.
“Since they’ve been home, a lot of their contacts have been family members,” because they live mostly at home, he said.
It’s also true that “This age group tends to be at lower risk of serious complications,” Goodfriend said. Indeed, he’s not aware of any of the young patients having been hospitalized.
“That said, there’s always that risk,” he added.
Some kids have died from the virus, as well as from the multi-system inflammatory syndrome seen in New York at the height of their outbreak and sporadically in Fairfax County, Goodfriend said.
“The greater risk,” he added, “is that when they get home, they pass it on to family members who are at increased risk.”
Loudoun County has reminded residents that large events, such as those coming up during the Fourth of July holiday weekend or during summer beach trips, pose a greater risk for residents than staying home and mixing with smaller groups of people.
Goodfriend said the outbreak was a sign that, though masks and social distancing work, it doesn’t take much to upend months of progress.
“As long as we have community transmission … all that virus needs is for people to stop taking those preventative steps in order for it to take hold again. This, for us, was a warning sign that it can come back at any time.”
“The safest place is at home,” Goodfriend said, adding, “Even though you can socialize in much greater numbers, it doesn’t mean you need to.”
He concluded, “It’s a reminder to us of how fragile the progress we’ve made has been.”
WTOP’s Kristi King contributed to this report.