By Pauline Kerr
COVID-19 has come to be viewed as an old person’s disease, in part due to the way it ripped through long-term care facilities with deadly consequences.
In recent weeks there has been a shift in who is catching COVID-19. The majority of new cases are among young adults. Contrary to popular belief, people in the 20 to 40 age group can and do become desperately ill with the disease; some of them die.
Some experts are putting the change down to the fact that demographic is simply returning to work and school with entry into stage three of the economic recovery. They are at the office, dealing with customers, co-workers and classmates, popping into restaurants for lunch and in general, being out in the community a lot more than during the lock-down. The virus has not gone away; being exposed to it more often means more cases.
Others put it down to younger people feeling invincible and attending events where alcohol tends to fog everyone’s focus on social distancing. By the third beer, masks are in pockets and people are leaning close to hear each other over the music.
Few are callous enough to say they don’t care if they bring the disease home to grandma, but they are being accused of it. There is a growing realization that messaging about wearing masks and social distancing to protect others is not getting through to younger people.
We get it. They are tired of being told where they can and cannot go, how often to wash their hands and how to behave to minimize danger with this “new normal.” All of a sudden, their favourite bars are re-opening and people are having parties.
In a way, it was easier for everyone to follow the rules when the entire country was in major emergency mode. We are aware the cure for the pandemic will be a vaccine, which is at least several months away. Distancing, wearing masks and using lots of hand sanitizer are Bandaid solutions. Now we are told we can loosen the bandaging a bit, if we are very careful. It is no wonder some people in an age group not noted for patience want to just rip the thing off and be done with it.
There is a certain irony in the fact that older folks, usually considered to be set in their ways and somewhat inflexible, are adapting to the “new normal” better than many of their kids are. It is the younger people who seem determined to act as if nothing has changed, when, in fact, everything has.
Most people of a certain age have learned to adapt to change. They have gone from school to the workplace – a major adjustment. Many have married and had children. They have survived upswings and downturns in the economy. They have seen the world edge alarmingly close to the brink of war many times. There are few who have not weathered a job loss at some point, necessitating a career change. There have been personal losses, too. Older folk may be vulnerable to the virus itself, but they have the resilience to do whatever it takes to get through this pandemic.
Those in their teens and early 20s, at least in this country, have remained insulated from many of the “slings and arrows of outrageous fortune,” hence their frustration at COVID-normal.
Their elders know that the younger generation will emerge from the pandemic much stronger and more resilient, a positive they will carry with them all their lives. But they have to survive it first.
The pandemic response has largely been formulated by health care experts and political leaders, and imposed on youth. Perhaps when school begins in September, youth will have the opportunity to take an active role in preventing the spread of the virus. It might take the form of personalizing masks, holding fundraisers, even creating blogs and newsletters to keep fellow students informed and get them on board in disease prevention.
They need buy-in for the messaging to make sense to them.