Gen Z is not taking this pandemic seriously

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People gather onthe shoreline in Destin, Fla., Wednesday, March 18, 2020.   Why does it seem like so many people in our communities, especially our peers as university students, are still not taking this virus seriously?  Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP

People gather onthe shoreline in Destin, Fla., Wednesday, March 18, 2020. Why does it seem like so many people in our communities, especially our peers as university students, are still not taking this virus seriously? Devon Ravine/Northwest Florida Daily News via AP

Here’s what you can do to help.

The COVID-19 outbreak has been a scary and uncertain time for everyone. People are facing healthcare issues, unemployment, adjusting to telecommuting and new childcare struggles on a daily basis. The government and healthcare officials have declared a national emergency, are urging social distancing and are closing non-essential businesses for the foreseeable future in order to “flatten the curve,” or slow the exponential increase of infection. So why does it seem like so many people in our communities, especially our peers as university students, are still not taking this virus seriously?

The height of panic amongst Americans came toward the second week or so of March, which unfortunately coincided with spring break for many college students. At this point, officials were urging for all large gatherings of 100 or more people to be canceled or shut down and limiting travel abroad as well as to the hotbeds of the illness. But spring-breakers weren’t listening. 

Thousands of 20-somethings flocked to the beaches and clubs of Miami and Cancún despite warnings and restrictions. This may have been in large part because, on March 3, researchers from the Center for Disease Control (CDC) were saying that people under the age of 30 were not being infected or falling seriously ill from COVID-19, based on the majority of cases from China at the time. 

This reluctance to listen to government and healthcare officials was alarming because those reports that said the young were safe were simultaneously saying the elderly and immunocompromised communities were at an increased risk of serious infection or death. The reason for the shut-downs, cancelations, warnings and distancing was not self-protection, but because of a civic duty to protect our larger community. Officials warned us to stay home because young people are carriers of the coronavirus and can still pass on the virus to those they came in contact with through travel, work or school. By staying home, the rate of infection will slow. For a visual example of what that might look like, check out this graphic

Now, as our country and the world learns more about COVID-19, it has become abundantly clear young people are not as safe as they first believed. Social media posts of young people bedridden in hospitals from the coronavirus are going viral and helping to put a spotlight on the realities of this illness. According to the New York Times, more than 40% of those who have tested positive for the virus in New York City are between the ages of 18 and 44. 

“Part of it is because we are testing more people as tests become more available and also because folks in this age group were out and about and weren’t necessarily engaging in social distancing like other age groups,” Dr. Danielle Ompad, associate professor of epidemiology at NYU’s School of Global Public Health, said to the New York Times. 

Another underlying issue is that people our age may have chronic physical conditions that they are unaware of, heightening the effects of infection. 

Colleges have closed and sent students home for the semester. Places of worship have canceled regular services, funerals and marriages. Even the McDonald’s franchise is temporarily closing its doors. These actions, as well as consistent warnings from healthcare workers and government officials, seem like they should be proof enough that young people need to be taking this seriously. None of those decisions were made lightly or without consequence. But people our age, family and friends are still treating this like an extended vacation. 

Perhaps this is because they have not seen an immediate result from social distancing yet. But it’s important not to be discouraged. The impact of social distancing won’t show for a few weeks, but that doesn’t mean this method of controlling the virus is ineffective. Dr. Deborah Birx, the White House coronavirus response coordinator, spoke to The Today Show about social distancing. 

“The things we have put in place over the last eight days and what the Mayor and Governor [of New York have] done over the last seven days, you won’t see the impact of that for at least another seven or 14 days,” Birx said. 

So how do we talk to the people in our lives that just don’t seem to understand the consequences of their actions and continue to ignore social distancing protocol? What do you tell someone who still won’t stay home?

Start by saying no. Before engaging in these tough conversations with loved ones, it is important that we come to terms with the fact that we only have control over our own actions. As the old saying goes, be the change you wish to see in the world. So say no to hanging out at your friend’s place. Tell your parents you shouldn’t go make a run to Starbucks just to get out of the house. If you’re a non-essential employee, tell your boss you won’t be working for the next few weeks. Lead by example when it comes to social distancing and don’t add to the problem.

Then, have a serious conversation about risk and consequence. The worst is yet to come with this virus. The CDC estimates that the peak of the virus will come in mid-April, following an incubation period for all the travellers, college-students and employees who have only just started staying home. Many others are under the impression that the novel coronavirus will still be spreading through summer. 

By explaining to parents and friends that hundreds of thousands of people are still going to get sick, and that the infection rate is exponential, you can help them understand the severity of this pandemic. Parents tend to have a penchant for “fake news,” so share articles selectively. Show them interactive graphics and charts on the Internet; these do an excellent job of illustrating infection and the impact just one person can have by social distancing. Every young person that is not abiding by these distancing rules, even if they don’t feel sick, puts an elderly person or immunocompromised peer at risk. 

Gently remind people that we’re all in this together and to practice some selflessness during this difficult time.

“Some people don’t realize that it’s in everyone’s interest for them to socially distance and so forth,” Steven Taylor, a professor at the University of British Columbia and the author of “The Psychology of Pandemics,” told The Atlantic. “We relate more to small groups close to ourselves, or kinship groups, so if you’re [making an appeal like] ‘You’d be helping people like Grandma’ or ‘You’d be helping your neighbor’ — something that they can relate to — that’s going to have a greater impact.” 

Taylor advised that it might be particularly effective to remind someone that their caution will protect someone they love, like a parent, partner or child. 

Rachael Piltch-Loeb, a fellow at the Harvard T. H. Chan School of Public Health, also spoke to The Atlantic about this issue. She said to avoid the numerical data the news is providing and stick to more human stories to persuade someone to stay home. According to Piltch-Loeb, putting a human face to the pandemic might help someone who has not seen the virus first-hand better understand its consequences. 

Another tactic to try with your loved ones is positive psychology. Don’t just ask someone to stay home, put a positive spin on it by inviting them to do something else. Ask your parents to participate in a creative DIY project at home or ask your significant other to watch a movie over Facetime instead of driving to see each other. There are so many creative alternatives to offer in today’s technological age that might help offset some of the stress or anxiety caused by the coronavirus. 

Perhaps most important is to remember to be kind when having these conversations with friends and family. COVID-19, while certainly a public health issue, is also becoming inherently political. Be empathetic and non-judgmental when talking to your loved ones. Remember that by trying to convince someone to practice social distancing, you are not trying to change their worldviews. Separate the core-belief system from the issue at hand. Remind your parents, siblings and friends that these warnings are coming from a place of love and concern for their well-being, and not from a place of control or criticism. 

If we all do our part now, we can end a lot of this craziness just a little bit quicker. During this time of isolation, we need connection now more than ever, so these conversations are quickly becoming more imperative to have. Be sure you are listening to your family and friends as well and educating yourself to the best of your ability. Relationships are built on communication and a place of understanding. Remembering this and maintaining a positive outlook are going to be key in getting through this. 


Julia Mancini is the life editor for The Daily Campus. She can be reached via email at Julia.mancini@uconn.edu

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