Young People are Sustaining COVID-19

A group of coronaviruses floating around the Old Well on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill

A group of coronaviruses floating around the Old Well on the campus of UNC-Chapel Hill
“Kids. I don’t understand what’s wrong with these kids today.”

“Kids. Who can understand anything they say?”

“Kids. You can talk and talk till your face is blue, but they still do just what they want to do.”

Those lyrics are from the 1960 Broadway musical Bye Bye Birdie, but given what’s happened lately, they could have been spoken by Drs. Fauci or Birx during a recent press conference. That’s because the latest rise in COVID-19 cases is being fueled in large part by teens and young adults, and not just here in the United States. Speaking with Good Morning Britain last month, Dr. Hilary Jones said, “Outbreaks [of COVID-19] around the world are due to the actions of younger people.”

Some of those “actions” that Dr. Jones referred to include an increase in large gatherings attended by young people. In late July, for example, the upper crust town of Greenwich, Connecticut reported 19 new COVID cases following a rash of parties attended by high school and college kids. In mid-August, hundreds of freshmen at Syracuse University partied in the Quad without masks. A similar event occurred at Penn State, resulting in a suspension of the entire Phi Kappa Psi fraternity. Same thing at Purdue, University of Alabama, Oklahoma State, and many other colleges. And who can forget the party-house in Jackson Township, New Jersey where police were called in to disperse over 700 young adults who were packed in like sardines, sans masks. A similar situation arose last month in Los Angeles where a Hollywood Hills home became party central to scores of youngsters. When warnings fell on deaf ears, Mayor Eric Garcetti took drastic action, which he announced in a press release. “Despite several warnings, this house has turned into a nightclub in the hills, hosting large gathering in flagrant violation of our public health orders. The City has now disconnected utilities at this home to stop these parties that endanger our community.”

Mayor Garcetti is to be commended for thinking outside the box, but he shouldn’t have had to. Anyone over 18 is supposed to know right from wrong. They’re supposed to know not to have unprotected sex, but they do. They’re supposed to know not to engage in Tide-pod eating contests, but they do. They’re supposed to know not to drive drunk, but they do. So it should come as no surprise that a growing number of young people are gathering in large crowds without masks, and without social distancing themselves from others.  The question is, “Why do young people put themselves and others at risk?” Dr. Prabhat Jha, an epidemiologist at the University of Toronto proffers an answer. “Some experts have pointed to a feeling of invincibility about the virus (and lockdown fatigue) as reasons for their behavior.”  Dr. Jones agrees, telling Good Morning Britain, “Younger people are saying, ‘We don’t feel we’re vulnerable, so we’ll go out to socials, gatherings, pubs and restaurants, and we’re not so concerned.’”

A sense of invincibility is inherent in most youth, but President Trump didn’t help things when, early on, he claimed that COVID-19 would not affect young people. We now know differently. Last month the Centers for Disease Control announced that people in their twenties are contracting COVID-19 at higher rates than the at-risk elderly, and warned that young adults who contract the virus are experiencing long-term side effects.

Fortunately many public school superintendents and college presidents are now taking an aggressive stance to prevent the spread of COVID-19 among students. Over 65% of K-12 students in North Carolina started the semester at home, learning remotely, and, later, schools like NC State and UNC-Chapel Hill reversed their original decision to hold in-person classes. UNCG, meanwhile is going a step further, having University police strictly enforce the Governor’s orders at large gatherings even if they’re held off campus. Such warnings and enforcement among college administrators is growing all too common. “If you don’t abide by the rules, there’s no place for you here,” said Purdue Vice Provost Katie Sermersheim. And, Mike Hainey, Vice Chancellor at Syracuse University implored students, “Be better. Be adults. Think of someone other than yourself.”

Some medical professionals believe that if we would all just wear a mask and practice social distancing for three straight weeks, we could halt the spread of COVID-19. Who knows? Maybe our young people will follow that advice, but I’m not holding my breath. Although that might be a solution too.


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