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College in the time of corona

Young adults reflect on their generation’s difficulty with social distancing

By Vivian Finck

Just last week the federal government, backed by the Centers for Disease Control and World Health Organization, sounded a warning to all to implement social distancing into our daily lives.

Social distancing, if properly executed, will hopefully help curb the spread of the Novel Coronavirus and give the government—along with the U.S. healthcare system—time to prepare for the anticipated high number of people who will need hospitalization in the coming weeks, months or even years.

The young adult population, especially college students who are now learning remotely, have been criticized for not following the CDC guidelines and instead creating their own set of “rules” on how to navigate this time of panic.

A local University of Vermont senior (who requested anonymity) said, “I mean I’m still going to hang out with my friends unless they’re sick. Then I won’t.”

And he is not alone. Many college-aged students are choosing to create their own rulebooks when it comes to defining social distancing.

UVM freshman Riley Christy stated that, “It stems from the mentality that we’re not going to get sick, or if we do, it won’t be as severe.”

The question then becomes, where do the lines get drawn and how do we reach the younger generation about the severity of this virus? The disconnects lie in the lack of understanding and awareness of the true effects this virus will have on every aspect of their lives.

“I don’t think they understand or are educated enough to know that while it might not directly affect them, it has the potential to devastate our communities,” said St. Michael’s College freshman Aisha Navarrette. “A lot of people our age are not as healthy as they think they are and could bring it home to their family members.”

Not only have Christy, Navarette and their peers been deprived of returning to their college campuses and those communities, they are also now being asked to refrain from social gatherings altogether—a request akin to punishment for many teenagers and young adults.

UVM student Jake Nicholson describes the pack mentality among the recently-returned clusters of his friends, where if one person chooses not to stay home, they all seem to follow. He admits to his lack of adherence to strict social distancing by saying, “I’m not really practicing it that well.” But he believes that as the days keep coming and people begin to isolate more, he will start to also. This sort of follower mentality is present among much of the young population, he said. “As long as there is somewhere to congregate, they will continue to.”

Joshua L Harris MD, FACEP addressed this concern in his March 11 FaceBook post. “If you’re young and healthy, your responsibility is to make sure you don’t contribute to its spread. We have no treatment for this disease other than preventing its spread.” All members of the community, he elaborated, have a duty now to act in the interest of the whole.

UVM parks, recreation, and tourism major Reilly Shannon, is opting to spend his time hiking in the woods rather than going to parties. He believes that his peers are acting in ways that are, “pretty selfish because if only a few people do this, then nothing is going to change,” he said.

In order to try and contain this virus, said Navarette, there has to be a collective realization among her generation to learn to be okay with solitude; for the time being, at least. However, she predicts, the likelihood of this happening is slim, as many young adults lack “respect for themselves, for their families and for other people enough to understand that this is a critical issue and has to be a group effort.”

Vivian Finck is an english and writing major at UVM. She resides in Killington and is interning for the Mountain Times this spring.

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