Yesterday various news outlets reported that there were many new COVID-19 cases in youth under 20. In fact, cases of COVID-19 in people under 20 were increasing at the highest rate of all age groups at this time.
For those of us who work with youth, this is disheartening. Of course, the speculation is that this is happening because youth are tired of social isolation. Schools are closed, so we know that contacts that resulted in these increased cases did not come from contacts in classrooms. My concern about the speculation regarding social isolation is that it gives the impression that youth are not responsible, when this is not at all the case.
Many youth are very concerned about the pandemic and are doing their best to follow public health directives. Around the world, youth have taken a leadership role in many aspects of COVID-19 and who can blame them?
It is youth who will feel the financial impact of COVID-19, likely for all their lives. Their education has changed and it may have changed forever. Youth were already facing an uncertain job market, and now employment is likely to become even more fragmented. The loss of millions of jobs in an evolving job market means that youth are worried that they will never be able to afford many of the creature comforts they grew up with.
For the youth I see, one of the greatest concerns for many who are starting college or university is that their first semester is likely to be online courses. I can identify with that. Much of what I learned in my first year of university was more related to the experience than to what I learned.
I was sixteen years old when I left the small Quebec town where I had grown up to go to McGill. I lived in Royal Victoria College, the women’s residence at McGill. The young women who lived in residence with me came from many backgrounds and many countries. There were museums and art galleries on campus. I went to concerts and plays for a pittance. We had special dinners with interesting women alumnae. While I am sure the content has changed over the years, the richness has not. Even for those who attend college or university from home, there is still this richness and it will be difficult to appreciate on Zoom. Most youth know this and are trying to stay well.
One of my patients lamented just a few days ago that she felt as though she was being blamed for new cases in her age group, but that she had never left her home:
“The people I know are not leaving home except when they have to because we want to be able to have a better life and not get sick and die. I don’t want my whole life to be a COVID experience!”