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5 States With Big 65-Plus Populations Hit Hard by COVID Surge

Reopening plans pared back as coronavirus case numbers jump

A man is putting a sign up outside of his bar that says it is closed again

MARK FELIX/AFP /AFP via Getty Images

Bar owner Petros J. Markantonis changes the marquee outside his bar to "Closed Again" at the West Alabama Ice House in Houston, Texas.

En español | With U.S. coronavirus cases reaching record daily highs, the three states with the largest populations of retirement-age Americans are among those hardest hit by the surge.

California, Florida and Texas — collectively home to more than 13.6 million people age 65 and up, about a quarter of the country's senior population — have seen case numbers spike in recent days and are reinstituting some restrictions on public gatherings and business operations.

So has Arizona, which ranks 13th nationwide in total number of 65-plus residents and has a rapidly growing older population. Those four states accounted for almost half of the then-record 39,972 U.S. COVID-19 cases reported on June 25, according to Johns Hopkins University's Coronavirus Resource Center.

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Georgia, which also ranks among the top 10 states for retirement-age residents, also saw coronavirus cases jump to record levels over the weekend, but several Northeastern and Midwestern states with large 65-plus populations that were hot spots in the early weeks of the pandemic — including New York, Pennsylvania, Illinois and Michigan — have seen their numbers drop sharply since peaking in April.

Patients skewing younger

Much of the surge involves rising case numbers among younger adults, and last week, the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (CDC) dropped 65 as an age-specific threshold for higher risk of severe illness from COVID-19, the disease caused by the new coronavirus. But the agency continues to classify older adults generally as a vulnerable group, with the risk of hospitalization and death increasing with age.

Several health conditions, some more common among older people, are also listed as risk factors by the CDC, including chronic kidney disease; chronic obstructive pulmonary disease (COPD); weakened immune systems due to organ transplants; obesity (body mass index of 30 or higher); sickle cell disease; type 2 diabetes; and serious heart conditions such as heart failure, coronary artery disease or cardiomyopathies.

People in these at-risk groups should be especially vigilant about following CDC guidelines to help prevent contracting or spreading the coronavirus:

  • Wash your hands frequently, for at least 20 seconds. If soap and water are unavailable, use a hand sanitizer with at least 60 percent alcohol content.
  • Avoid touching your mouth, nose and eyes with unwashed hands.
  • Wear a cloth face covering and keep at least 6 feet away from others while outside the home.
  • Avoid crowds, especially in confined indoor spaces.
  • Avoid close contact with people who are sick, even at home.

Cases spike across Sun Belt

Here's how case counts have surged and health guidelines changed in five states in the South and West with high 65-and-up populations. Population figures are 2018 estimates from the U.S. Census Bureau; coronavirus case data is from Johns Hopkins; information on state social-distancing and public-health guidelines is from AARP, the Kaiser Family Foundation and media reports.

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65+ population: 1.3 million (13th in U.S., 17.5 percent of state population)

7-day rolling average of new cases on June 1: 508/day

7-day rolling average of new cases on June 30: 2,979/day

State guidelines: Arizona has steadily allowed nonessential business to resume operations, generally with capacity limits or other distancing measures, since stay-at-home orders expired May 15. Gov. Doug Ducey put further reopening "on pause" amid the rise in cases and on June 29 ordered bars, gyms, movie theaters and water parks shutter for at least 30 days. Some workers are required to wear masks, and several cities mandated public face covering in mid-June after Ducey reversed an executive order that effectively barred local governments from doing so.


65+ population: 5.7 million (1st in U.S., 14.3 percent of state population)

7-day rolling average of new cases on June 1: 2,619/day

7-day rolling average of new cases on June 30: 5,706/day

State guidelines: California imposed a statewide stay-at-home order on March 19, the first state to do so. The order remains in effect but was modified in May to allow counties that meet certain criteria for coronavirus testing and case rates to reopen some nonessential businesses at reduced capacity. On June 28, Gov. Gavin Newsom ordered bars closed in seven counties and recommended that they be closed in eight others. California continues to ban large gatherings and require masks in public.


65+ population: 4.4 million (2nd in U.S., 20.5 percent of state population)

7-day rolling average of new cases on June 1: 726/day

7-day rolling average of new cases on June 30: 6,990/day

State guidelines: Florida's stay-at-home order expired in early May. On June 5, the state entered phase two of its reopening plan, allowing stores and personal-care businesses to reopen, and restaurants and bars to resume indoor service, at limited capacity. On June 26, Gov. Ron DeSantis ordered bars closed after the state reported a then-record 8,942 new cases. Face covering is required for certain employees; local governments are allowed to impose broader mask rules.


65+ population: 1.5 million (10th in U.S., 13.9 percent of state population)

7-day rolling average of new cases on June 1: 643/day

7-day rolling average of new cases on June 30: 1,926/day

State guidelines: Georgia has reactivated large parts of its economy since statewide stay-at-home rules were relaxed in late April, gradually easing capacity and distancing rules for restaurants, bars, stores and other businesses and alllowing gatherings of up to 50 people. On June 29, Gov. Brian Kemp signed an executive order to keep current restrictions in place and extend a shelter-in-place order for long-term care facilities and medically at-risk people, which had been set to expire this week, to July 15. Some workers are required to wear masks; Kemp is encouraging but not requiring use by the general public.


65+ population: 3.6 million (3rd in U.S., 12.6 percent of state population)

7-day rolling average of new cases on June 1: 1,312/day

7-day rolling average of new cases on June 28: 5,315/day

State guidelines: Texas's stay-at-home order lapsed April 30. Nonessential businesses were allowed to reopen with limited capacity or other distancing requirements. Gov. Greg Abbott rolled back some steps on June 26, ordering bars to close, reducing restaurants to 50 percent capacity (two weeks after the cap had been raised to 75 percent), and largely reinstating a ban on big gatherings. On July 2, a day after Texas recorded a record 8,076 new cases, Abbott issued an order requiring people in most counties to wear masks in public when social distancing is not possible.

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