By Bryan Renbaum, Maryland

If the coronavirus positivity rate continues to sharply increase among Marylanders under age 35 it could have serious consequences for the state’s economy, according to Maryland’s business leaders.

The positivity rate for Marylanders under age 35 is 6.33 percent, according to data released by the state’s Department of Health on Friday. That figure is 84 percent higher than that of Marylanders age 35 and over, whose positivity rate is 3.44 percent. The state’s overall positivity rate is 4.34 percent-a new low that comes as Maryland is already doing better than most states in the country at containing the spread of the virus.

“Should the percentage of Covid cases of people under 35 continue to increase, we will certainly see an impact on the economy in two ways,” Howard County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Leonardo McClarty told in an email on Friday.

“The first will be workplace productivity as this age cohort is extremely large. Moreover, this is the age of producers and where for many companies, the work takes place. The second impact is that of consuming. This age range frequently eats out and shops whether online or in person. Should this group not be able to work due to illness and their wages decrease, that impacts their purchasing power.”

Part of the economic recovery also rests on the hands of the millennial labor force, and if they are unable to work or return to work because of the pandemic, the economy will suffer.

“Our workforce reopening plans would be catastrophically impacted if self-quarantines become necessary for the younger age categories,” Frederick County Chamber of Commerce President and CEO Rick Weldon said. “Regardless of sector, younger workers are absolutely critical to our overall economic recovery, so a high rate of COVID positives, followed by the need to further isolate and contact trace their movements and interactions would undoubtedly be a major setback.”

Maryland Retailers Association president Cailey Locklair Tolle said the issue may be more complex than it seems.

“One of the important questions to drill down into is are these younger individuals being hospitalized? It is one thing to have to quarantine for two weeks, but something completely different to be sick for a significant period of time. Additionally, is this positivity number active cases, or positive for antibodies?

“I have not heard from members about there being an issue at this time, but if that number went to say 20%, I am sure we would start to hear about it. The other thing I will add is we need to know how many in that demographic work for an employer where they have to be there in person. Much of what I’ve read has shown the younger population with mild symptoms. If they are already working from home and had to quarantine, there would be little to no impact.”

Gov. Larry Hogan said in a statement on Friday that the sharp increase in the positivity rate among millennials is cause for concern and that Marylanders should “remain vigilant” in the fight against COVID.

“We are concerned that the positivity rate among Marylanders under 35 is now 84% higher than the rate for Marylanders 35 and older, making it more important than ever for all Marylanders to remain vigilant, wear face coverings, wash their hands, and practice physical distancing.”

There are 71,910 confirmed cases of COVID-19 in Maryland as of Friday morning, according to the Department of Health, and 3,172 people in the state have died from the virus.

Maryland has tested nearly 775,000 people for the virus, which is more than 10 percent of the state’s population. There are more than 220 COVID testing sites in operation statewide.

This article originally appeared on on July 10, 2020 and is republished with permission under Creative Commons Attribution-Share Alike 3.0 United States License.