Stats, Warnings, Survivor Stories Not Enough to Sway Some Young People Toward Wearing Masks

A 21-year-old strolling the boardwalk said she doesn't wear a mask because she refuses to live in fear, and prefers catching COVID-19 to develop immunity despite the theory's unproven status

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According to coronavirus data from San Diego County, nearly 25% of all COVID-19 cases are among patients 20 to 29 years old, and a staggering 58% include people 20 to 49 years old.

But the statistics, and warnings from health experts and a young COVID-19 survivor, weren't enough to sway some young people strolling the Pacific Beach boardwalk Wednesday evening.

Last week, NBC 7 introduced you to Will Galvez, a 26-year-old COVID-19 survivor and former college football player, who was blindsided by the effects of the disease and thought, as he laid isolated in a hospital room, that he might not make it.

The 26-year-old told NBC 7's Omari Fleming there was a moment he thought he might not make it.

Galvez ultimately survived, and once he was well enough he shared his story with NBC 7 with the hopes he could change the minds of people in his age group who might be blowing off the dangers of the coronavirus.

He tried his best Wednesday with 21-year-old Emma Zabala.

"Are you a mask wearer?

"No!" she said.

"Why not?"

"It doesn't make sense. Why are we wearing masks to be outside? Are you afraid of germs?"

Galvez, speaking from experience, tried to explain that no one, no matter how young, is invinsible.

"I'd say no one is safe," he said. "I'm not saying be a hermit or hide or anything. I'm just saying follow the rules because you don't know. I'm telling you, if you almost died, until you're in that situation--"

"I have almost died in my life. That's why you live your life every day like you want," Zabala interrupted.

The Centers for Disease Control and Prevention strongly recommends facial coverings to reduce the risk of COVID-19 transmission because the deadly disease is spread via droplet particles from the mouth or nose of an infected person.

San Diego County's current Public Health Order, which is law, orders facial coverings be worn while inside and outside where social distancing isn't possible.

NBC 7 reporter Omari Fleming, through his face mask, presented the idea that covering your face not only protects one's self, but also the people around a mask wearer who may be sick but asymptomatic.

"What I'm doing is protecting you," he told Zabala.

"I don't need protection from you. I want to get sick to build immunity."

Even if it costs your life?

"Yes. I don't want to live my life being afraid to die."

Zabala said she understands the risks the virus presents to the older population, which includes her beloved grandparents.

"It does affect me because I have my grandparents who are 70 and afraid to go outside."

"You're not worried about them?" Fleming wondered.

"No, because I'm younger. Quarantining is for people who are sick, not people who are healthy."

A Scripps Memorial Hospital doctor who spoke at Wednesday's coronavirus public address hosted by the county said COVID-19 can present serious health issues regardless of age, but especially for young people who smoke or vape.

"We have younger and younger patients showing up with more and more significant complications, and it’s certainly true that the mortality rate for those that are younger is lower than those that are older, but it’s also true that the mortality rate is not 0," Dr. Scott Eisman said.

It's not just coronavirus tests -- lab supplies and technicians are also in short supply, reports NBC 7's Bridget Naso.

Research shows the disease attacks the lungs and the blood vessels which can lead to blood clotting, and can also cause stroke, or liver and kidney failure.

Galvez said he suffered from scorching fevers and needed an oxygen tube to help him breathe.

Days after his hospital release, the avid hiker and golfer was winded by simple conversation. And while he escaped without any long-term damage to his lungs, he did lose 12 pounds of muscle while in the hospital.

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