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North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger speaks at a press conference in Raleigh, NC. North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger speaks at a press conference in Raleigh, NC.

North Carolina Senate leader Phil Berger speaks at a press conference in Raleigh, NC.

Paul Specht
By Paul Specht March 18, 2020

Most NC legislators in 'high risk age group' for coronavirus

If Your Time is short

  • A Democratic North Carolina House member tweeted that "most" legislators are in the high risk age group for coronavirus.
  • The high risk age group includes people 60 and older.
  • More than half of NC legislators are in that age group.

To prevent the spread of coronavirus, one state lawmaker wants to take the "assembly" out of the North Carolina General Assembly.

North Carolina state Rep. Kelly Alexander, a Democrat from Mecklenburg County, suggested on Twitter that legislators should consider video conferencing. The start of the legislature’s session is scheduled for April 28.

Alexander posted his tweet on March 11. That same day the World Health Organization labeled the spread of the novel coronavirus as a "pandemic," prompting a wave of event cancellations and changes across the globe.

"With a vaccine a year in the future the General Assembly should use more teleconferences and fewer in person meetings to cut down on potential exposure...after all most of the GA’s members are in the high risk age group," Alexander tweeted, adding: "besides we need to modernize...just saying."

Is it true that "most" of North Carolina’s legislators are in the "high risk age group?"

Alexander never responded to an email from PolitiFact, so we don’t know how he came to his conclusion.

Regardless, his tweet is on-point.

At-risk ages

First, let’s first look at what health experts say about the novel coronavirus (also known as COVID-19) and who’s most at-risk. 

The virus causes a fever, cough and shortness of breath in people anywhere from two to 14 days after exposure, according to the the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. The CDC says people with chronic medical conditions such as heart disease, diabetes or lung disease are most at-risk.

As for age, there’s no specific birth date at which people become more vulnerable. Generally speaking: the older you are, the more likely you are to have complications from the novel coronavirus.

That said, top health organizations have defined "older adults" as people who are at least 60 years old.

The CDC has previously, in a document unrelated to the coronavirus, defined older adults as those over 60. The World Health Organization specifically mentioned people over 60 in its recent report on the coronavirus outbreak in China. 

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Health experts recently told CNN that the term "older" typically refers to anyone over 60. And US Surgeon General Jerome Adams said 60 is the "average age of people who need medical attention."

It also appears that people older than 60 are more susceptible to complications from the virus.

Scientific American reported that patients in China were more at-risk of death if they developed acute respiratory distress syndrome, known as ARDS, after contracting coronavirus. The average age of those who contracted the syndrome was 61.

State lawmakers

So we know that people who are 60-years-old or older are likely to be more at-risk than other age groups. With this in mind, let’s look at the age of North Carolina’s legislators. 

The legislature includes 170 members: 120 in the House and 50 in the Senate.

In the Senate, 28 members are 60-years-old or older. In the House, 63 members are older than 60.

That means 91 members are aged 60 or older -- which is 53% of the General Assembly.

Those numbers come from James White, the House principal clerk, and Sarah Holland, the Senate’s principal clerk.

So it’s true that a majority of legislators are 60 or older. 

How does that compare to Congress?

In the U.S. House, 197 of its 435 members are 60 or older. In the U.S. Senate, 66 of its 100 members are 60 or older. That means about 49% of Congress is at least 60 years-old.

Those numbers come from a report by the Congressional Research Service and Jennifer Manning, the service’s senior research librarian.

Our ruling

Rep. Alexander said "most" North Carolina legislators are in the "highest risk age group" for coronavirus.

The highest risk age group is generally people who are aged 60 and older. Alexander’s claim is on-point: more than half of legislators are older than that. We rate his claim True.

Our Sources

Tweet by North Carolina state Rep. Kelly Alexander, Democrat from Mecklenburg County.

Email correspondence with James White, principal clerk for the North Carolina House of Representatives. 

Email correspondence with Sarah Holland, principal clerk for the North Carolina Senate.
Email correspondence with Jennifer Manning, senior research librarian for the Congressional Research Service.

U.S. Centers for Disease Control and Prevention: webpage on coronavirus (or covid-19) symptoms; webpage on the coronavirus situation summary (updated March 15, 2020); report on "Identifying vulnerable older adults and legal options for increasing their protection during all-hazards emergencies," which defined "older adults" as those aged 60 or older. 

Report of the World Health Organization-China Mission on Coronavirus Disease 2019 (COVID-19) published in February 2020.

Story by CNN, "7 of your latest coronavirus questions, answered," published March 10, 2020.

Story by Scientific American, "Which groups are most at risk from the coronavirus?" published March 3, 2020.

Report by the Congressional Research Service, "Membership of the 115th Congress: a profile," updated on Dec. 20, 2018.

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Most NC legislators in 'high risk age group' for coronavirus

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