NEW ORLEANS — Cindy Nguyen, a relatively healthy 24 year old, said she knows what’s it like to battle coronavirus.
“It was terrifying. It was unlike anything I’ve ever experienced,” said Nguyen. “I lost my appetite. Water started tasting really sweet, and then, once I started getting shortness of breath, that’s when it started getting really scary for me.”
Nguyen, a soon to be second-year LSU medical student, was diagnosed back in mid-March. As restrictions loosen across the state, it’s people her age who have Dr. Jennifer Avegno, director of the New Orleans Health Department, sending off a warning about community spreading.
Recently identified coronavirus clusters at bars in Baton Rouge and graduation parties in New Orleans have been part of the problem.
“There seems to be either a lack of understanding or a lack of responsibility among many of our young people, and in some cases, their parents who are aware of their actions,” Avegno said.
Recent Region 1 health data shows 50% of new coronavirus cases have been in people under the age of 30, Avegno said. 10% have been kids under the age of 18.
“This is a huge shift in what we have been seeing. We have not seen these numbers in young people,” Avegno said.
Avegno said this shift has been happening all over the country and coincides with lifting restrictions, a big concern for Dr. Julio Figueroa, chief of infectious diseases at LSU Health.
“We need to maintain the reduction of transmission, so we can get a hold of this virus and not have it overrun us again like it did in March and April,” said Figueroa.
Figueroa said personal responsibility plays a big role. That includes face masks and social distancing as much as possible.
“It doesn’t mean that you can’t have fun. You just have to be mindful of the situations that you’re in,” Figueroa said.
Dr. William Lennarz, system chair for pediatrics at Ochsner Health, does not expect a large group of critically ill young people because most won’t develop significant symptoms. His concern is young people spreading the virus.
“We’re really worried about what happens in two and three weeks when the rest of the population including the older folks and folks with comorbidities get sick,” Lennarz said.
“It’s just really scary to think that you could transmit it to someone that you love or just even transmit it to a stranger and then that affects someone they loved,” Nguyen said.
Having been through it, Nguyen said what the virus can do and what’s at stake both need to be taken seriously by her peers.
“Take the time. Be considerate. We want to flatten the curve. Nobody likes being in this situation. We don’t like being in a pandemic,” said Nguyen. “I think this could end a lot faster if we all did our part to ensure the safety of everyone around us.”
Doctors said regardless of age group, just because a patient recovers from coronavirus doesn’t make them immune for life.
With so many unknowns right now, re-infections have become a concern.