“A reality check”: Coronavirus, young people and the myth of invincibility
Associate News Editor
In the weeks immediately following the university’s closure and the closure of others across the country, many students attended parties and flocked to beaches and bars in attempts to have a spring break while they still could. Since then, large gatherings have been banned, bars have closed and beaches have been declared off-limits.
In response to the growing severity of coronavirus and its adverse effects, the spring breakers returned home.
According to the World Health Organization (WHO), children and young adults are less likely to experience severe cases of coronavirus. In Delaware, according to a May 1 report from the state’s official website, about 3% of reported cases were in people younger than 18, and approximately 53% of reported cases were found to be between the ages of 18 and 48.
While the number of reported cases in people younger than 18 is lower than the number of reported cases in every other age group, the WHO stated on its website that children and adolescents are “just as likely to become infected as any other age group.”
“I do know that a lot of young people aren’t taking it seriously because they feel like they won’t be affected, which isn’t really reflected in the science at all,” first-year student Anika Devotta said. “They’re putting a lot of the broader community at risk, and it’s definitely not a mindset that we need right now.”
Young people could unwittingly spread coronavirus to those more susceptible to its negative effects. Brendan Laux, a senior who said he is aware of his potential to be a carrier of coronavirus, follows government social distancing guidelines to protect his family.
“Of the people that I know, we’re very positive that while things might not affect us quite as hard as more vulnerable groups, it’s still in our ability to follow the guidelines so we make sure we don’t harm anybody else,” Laux said.
Laux believes that, generally, young people are not acting as recklessly as many believe them to be.
Lawrence Duggan, a professor of history at the university, also discussed the generalizations surrounding young people’s response to coronavirus.
“I think it’s fair to say that the adult world in general likes to think that students, or young people perhaps, are particularly oblivious,” Duggan said.
Even though they are students and members of the younger generation, neither Laux nor Devotta said they feel invincible, and they are aware of the current concerns surrounding coronavirus.
“It definitely was a reality check for a lot of my friends and myself, especially when we got booted from campus,” Devotta said.
Duggan emphasized that recklessness is not confined to young people.
“There are plenty of adults who seem to be absolutely witless and are engaged in one form of denial or other and don’t want to take the necessary precautions either to safeguard their own health or to be mindful of the possible danger that they pose to other people,” Duggan said.
Recent protests against business restrictions, occurring in violation of social distancing guidelines, were attended largely by adults. On Friday afternoon, such protests took place in Dover and Wilmington.
Devotta said that she understands the frustrations that stem from increased unemployment but is concerned about the individualism that she believes the protests signify.
“Stuff like pandemics and recessions can’t be dealt with with just one person,”’ Devotta said. “It’s a community effort, and I think a lot of people are forgetting that.”
Laux deemed the protests “ridiculous.”
“I think, you know, this is clearly an unprecedented kind of time and everybody kind of understands that,” Laux said. “To break that and not trust the word of people who do know what they’re talking about is just kind of foolish to me.”
According to Duggan, in the past 50 years, there has been a growing imbalance in American political culture in which people’s individual rights are prioritized over their responsibilities to their communities.
Devotta believes that the tendency for Americans to emphasize rights and freedoms is especially threatening to the wellness of the community at this particular moment.
“I just think that the circumstances are much different now, and people are still trying to cling to their freedoms when it infringes on other people’s right to live,” Devotta said.
This semester, Duggan teaches a course called “Plagues and Peoples in Human History.” In teaching this course, he has been able to reflect on his own experiences with illness as well as on the changes in broader perceptions of disease.
While he emphasized that one’s own experience with a particular illness varies, he made it clear that there has never been a general “closing down” such as the one occurring presently.
“This is a very unreal and unprecedented situation, and understandably, a lot of people find it difficult to really accept how careful one really needs to be,” Duggan said.
Along with American civic culture, Duggan also identified the medical advances of the past century as a contributor to the senses of shock that coronavirus has provoked among the population.
“We are the beneficiaries, at this time, of extraordinary advances that have taken place in the last hundred years or so in medicine, science and public health in general,” Duggan said.
Duggan cited population growth as an example of the impact of modern medicine. When the Spanish flu of 1918 and 1919 broke out, the world’s population was less than two billion. Today, it is more than seven billion.
According to Duggan, until about 100 years ago, people were accustomed to high infant mortality rates, and death during childbirth was not considered unusual.
“People did not have such high expectations of life in the first place,” Duggan said. “All of that has changed remarkably in the last hundred years, so we’ve been very nicely insulated from what used to be the ordinary human condition in which a lot of people died off as children and then at various other points in life.”
Duggan stated that because of medical advances of the past century, death now tends to come as a surprise.
“We do have this hope or expectation that it should all work perfectly, and people should be able to live on, and the fact is that isn’t so,” Duggan said. “And in a way, the coronavirus is here to remind us of that.”
Duggan, Laux and Devotta all expressed their concerns surrounding the public’s tendency to feel denial toward the situation’s severity.
“Even if coronavirus doesn’t kill people, it makes a lot of people very, very sick—deadly sick in many cases—and obviously, it has brought the entire medical and public health system to its knees,” Duggan said. “It is that serious, and people then need to act accordingly.”
Devotta remarked that although many feel the anxieties of being unable to work, it is important not to disregard government guidelines too soon.
Laux also expressed hopes that the people will continue to take precautions in their pursuit of a return to normalcy.
“I’m a senior,” Laux said. “We’re graduating. This is definitely a big sacrifice that we’re making. I just hope we don’t rush things back for the sake of rushing it back.”
Duggan claimed that it is one’s own moral responsibility to act in accordance with government guidelines and safety precautions.
“As a general piece of advice, always try to do the next right thing, but when it comes to this, act as though you are a possible carrier of the coronavirus, and behave towards everybody else accordingly,” Duggan said. “And stop engaging in denial of what reality is at the moment.”