Dr. Rachel Levine (copy)

Secretary of Health Rachel Levine 

HARRISBURG — Health officials warned Monday that the number of COVID-19 cases among young adults has increased substantially since college students returned to campus.

Health Secretary Dr. Rachel Levine said that young adults, aged 19-24, account for 69 percent of the cases of COVID-19 in north-central Pennsylvania, so far in September. Young adults in that age group account for 40 percent of the cases in northeastern Pennsylvania in September.

In April when the state was experiencing the worst of the coronavirus outbreak, young adults in areas with the starkest increases in COVID-19 cases among young adults accounted for just 7percent of the cases in north-central and 6 percent of the cases in northeastern Pennsylvania, she said.

While those areas have seen the most dramatic increases in cases among young adults, the trend is being seen statewide, she said.

“So why the big jump? Colleges and universities are back in session,” Levine said.

April Hutcheson, a Health Department spokeswoman, said that the department didn’t have specific data on cases on college campuses. However, with the increase in college-aged young adults coming as college students arrive on campus, health officials feel the link is clear, she said.

Levine said that college students need to take slowing the spread of coronavirus seriously.

College students “are very welcome guests in the community,” she said. “But what happens on campus directly impacts everyone off campus.”

If college students fuel spikes in coronavirus cases, it will make it less likely that local schools will be able to offer in-person instruction and it may make it difficult for local businesses to stay open, she said.

Levine said that state officials are allowing colleges to determine how to try to prevent the spread of coronavirus on their campuses.

However, she added that once students are brought to campus, they remain there even if a COVID-19 outbreak happens.

Sending students home after an outbreak at college would “lead to a diaspora” of the virus as young adults carried COVID-19 with them to wherever their families live, she said.

John Finnerty reports from the Harrisburg Bureau for The Meadville Tribune and other Pennsylvania newspapers owned by CNHI. Email him at jfinnerty@cnhi.com and follow him on Twitter @cnhipa.

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