Examining age and gender in Texas during the COVID-19 pandemic

By Tim Brown

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Health experts tell us that older adults and people with certain medical conditions such as cancer, diabetes and obesity are at increased risk from COVID-19. Numerous reports have shown how the virus can ravage senior citizen homes, and senior citizens account for a significant percentage of the fatalities in Texas. According to the Centers for Disease Control and Protection (CDC), the older a person is, the greater the risk for severe illness from the novel coronavirus.

On the other hand, some people believe that COVID-19 holds little or no risk for healthy young adults and children. The CDC acknowledges that "children do not appear to be at higher risk for COVID-19 than adults." However, studies are unclear about whether children are at lower risk of catching the virus than adults. The CDC also cautions that "a few children have developed multisystem inflammatory syndrome (MIS-C)," which is associated with COVID-19. 

A recent report from the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) and the Children's Hospital Association using public data found that 338,982 children in the U.S. had tested positive for COVID-19 as of July 30. The number might have been higher, but the two organizations obtained incomplete data from New York and Texas. The report's authors observed that slightly more than 97,000 of those cases, more than a quarter of the total, had been reported in the last two weeks of July. It is worth noting that states differed on what the maximum age of a child is. Many states reported anyone under 17 or 19 as children, yet there were differences. Florida and Utah used 14 as the upper age limit, and Alabama counted anyone under 24 as a child.

Closer to home, the Texas Department of State Health Services (DSHS) reports that children of all ages, including those less than 1 year old, have been diagnosed with and have died of COVID-19. Nueces County reported 85 positive cases of the disease among children under 2 years old before the second week of July. By early August, 82 more young children tested positive in the county, bringing the total to 167 cases since the pandemic started. One of the infants, only 6 months old, died from coronavirus-related complications on July 10.

Further complicating the situation, in another recent report, the AAP warned that Black and Hispanic children who were tested at a drive-up facility in Washington, D.C., were more likely to contract COVID-19 than non-Hispanic white children, and they were also more likely to be hospitalized, to develop severe symptoms and to experience coronavirus-related complications.

This chart groups confirmed cases of COVID-19 as of Aug. 5 by age bracket in Texas as reported by DSHS. Even though the virus often affects older individuals far more significantly than the young, the chart indicates that those who test positive are more likely to be under 20 than over 74. Add up the percentages, and about 45% of all the positive cases in Texas involve people less than 40 years old.

Although discussions focus more on the age of those who have tested positive, a significant difference exists in COVID-19 cases by gender. DSHS reports that about three-fifths of all cases involve males and that females make up most of the remainder — gender remains unknown in about 2% of the cases. 

Given the preceding information, where are children and the elderly more likely to be found in Texas? The U.S. Census Bureau provides estimates of the number of people by county in certain age brackets as well as by gender for July 1, 2019. 

Map 1 shows the bureau's estimated percentage of the population less than 10 years old. Counties along the international border are known to have populations that are younger than many other areas of the state. Therefore, the number of such counties with children under 10 years old making up at least 14.1% of the population is not surprising. What is surprising is how many counties near the New Mexico state line are estimated to have children under 10 years old making up over 14% of their populations.

Yet many of the counties with relatively few young children lie due east of those western counties. This group starts with Donley County (9.8%) in the Panhandle and runs intermittently southeast to McMullen County (10%) in the Eagle Ford Shale. A small number of outliers can be found west of this group although a larger number of outliers are scattered near the Louisiana border.

Map 2, which looks at the percentage of the population from age 10 to 19, shows strong numbers in the same general areas of our southern and western borders. In addition, Map 2 reveals that juveniles and young adults in this age group make up a significant portion of many of the urban and suburban counties of East Texas. As seen in the chart, DSHS has confirmed more positive cases involving patients from 10 to 19 than patients 80 and older, which is likely due to a combination of the greater number of younger individuals and the more densely populated areas where many of them reside — the virus spreads more easily in densely populated areas.

In many ways, Map 3 is the inverse of Map 1, revealing that areas with high percentages in the first map have relatively low percentages of people 80 and older and vice versa. Map 3 also shows that our most populous areas tend to have fairly few people over 80 — based on percentages. The highest percentages of people in this group tend to be in the counties stretching from Louisiana to just east of the Permian Basin, bypassing the large metropolitan areas around Houston, Dallas-Fort Worth, Austin, the Rio Grande Valley and, to a lesser extent, San Antonio.

Map 4 presents the ratio of males to females using all age groups. Rural counties, particularly in the western half of the state, are more likely to contain more males than females, and females are more likely to outnumber males near urban areas in the eastern half of the state. Eight counties have more than 150 males for every 100 females: Garza, Jones, Anderson, Childress, Reeves, Bee, Mitchell and Hartley. This may be partly a consequence of the shale oil boom, but not all counties with high male-to-female ratios are in shale oil areas.

Experts continue to examine links between age or gender and a person's susceptibility to the novel coronavirus. For now, knowing an area's demographics can help determine where to position resources and how best to communicate with residents about COVID-19, and it can guide plans for dealing with potential outbreaks. 

For more information on each county's demographics, see our Texas County Profiles. For more details on age groups by county, click the “Age Groups” link on your county's profile page.