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What Young, Healthy People Have to Fear From COVID-19

Anew philosophy of COVID-19 is circulating through the Republican Party and conservative media. If you look closely, you might notice that it resembles an early philosophy of COVID-19 that circulated through the Republican Party and conservative media: If young people get this disease, it won’t be so bad — and it might even be good.

Scott Atlas, the new White House science adviser and Trump-whisperer, seems to be the ringleader of this emergent corona-stoicism. A neuroradiologist and senior fellow at Stanford University’s conservative Hoover Institution, Atlas is not an expert in epidemiology or infectious diseases. As a Fox News regular, his relevant credentials seem to be more televisual than scientific.

“It doesn’t matter if younger, healthier people get infected,” Atlas said in a July interview with San Diego’s KUSI news station. “I don’t know how often that has to be said. They have nearly zero risk of a problem from this … When younger, healthier people get infected, that’s a good thing.”

The reality is that, so far, COVID-19 has killed fewer children and teenagers than seasonal flu in a normal year, according to data compiled by the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. (COVID-19’s fatality rate is much higher than influenza, but school closures and lockdowns have reduced teenage exposure to all sorts of infectious diseases.)

A 25-year-old who contracts this disease is approximately 250 times less likely to die than an infected 85-year-old, according to the most sophisticated estimates of infection-fatality rates. For every 1,000 people infected with COVID-19 under the age of 35, the average expected death count is less than one. These facts might give you the impression that, as Atlas said, “it doesn’t matter if younger, healthier people get infected.”

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