Editor’s Note: Annika Olson is the assistant director of policy research at the Institute for Urban Policy Research and Analysis at the University of Texas at Austin and a Public Voices Fellow of The OpEd Project. The opinions expressed in this commentary are solely her own. View more opinion articles on CNN
I am a 25-year-old healthy runner. And, until further notice, I will be running in isolated areas, reading books, baking and doing yoga at home.
But for most of you, it feels like spring break is in full force. Every day, I see more and more Instagram stories of young people at concerts and boozy brunches than I care to count.
Recently, Katie Williams, a former Ms. Nevada and candidate for the Clark County School Board of Trustees in Las Vegas, tweeted proudly about her trip to a crowded Red Robin in response to Rep. Alexandria Ocasio-Cortez urging “healthy people & people under 40 [to] PLEASE stop crowding bars, restaurants, and public spaces right now. Eat your meals at home.”
On Tuesday, some Florida beaches were crowded with young folks swimming and sunbathing, despite federal social distancing guidelines. And airlines dramatically reduced capacity and the federal government contemplated canceling domestic flights. There’s even some reporting to indicate that some young people see an opportunity for travel deals – unconscionable, given that experts say we should all act as if we have the virus. This kind of frivolous movement by people who think they’re healthy shows a callous disregard not just for those who are medically vulnerable but for our very health-care system itself.
As a generation, we have tackled issues like climate change, which unfolds over decades and millennia. Why are some of us unable to look two weeks into the future here?
You’ve all seen the numbers about Covid-19. What you may not realize is that these numbers are not just lower than in reality, but – given our relative lack of testing and the fact that you can be contagious even if you don’t feel sick – they are likely exponentially lower.
When something increases exponentially, it doubles or triples at each step, so that something that looks moderate suddenly becomes extreme. The average person with Covid-19 transmits it to somewhere between two and three people, and, without adequate testing, we have to assume it’s been circulating for a while.
Imagine spending a day at the beach. Let’s say one – just one – person had the novel coronavirus and gave it to just two other people. If those three people each pass it to two more people, then those nine people each pass it to two other people, then you have 27 people infected on day three. That means at the end of one week 2,187 people would have Covid-19.
Here’s the kicker: many of those people won’t even know they are sick. You may be contagious even if you have no symptoms (and it can take nearly two weeks for symptoms to develop). Some young people who contract Covid-19 may never get physically sick – but they can still pass it to many others who will.
In fact, data from the US Centers for Disease Control and Prevention indicates that though the most severe outcomes are happening among older people, millennials are not immune. An estimated 29% of the coronavirus cases where the age of the patient is known falls in the 20- to 44-year-old range.
So sure, many of us can shake off the disease. But millions of people cannot, and we are putting their lives at risk. You touched the bartender you did not realize had diabetes, the waitress who has hypertension and is a single mom of two kids, or the cute guy who has no health insurance.
Or, you visited your aging grandma, a friend recovering from a surgery, or your pregnant coworker. These people are all at serious risk of infection, losing their jobs, and losing their lives. The viruses we carry in our bodies right now might be the ones that end theirs.
With the disease replicating in the US as quickly as it is in Italy, in two weeks we could be where they are now. Italian journalist Mattia Ferraresi recently admitted, “many of us were too selfish to change our behavior. Now we’re in lockdown and people are needlessly dying.” Let’s not let the crisis in Italy be in vain; let’s learn from it.
We have shown that we have the leadership skills, social media savviness and commitment to our friends, family, and community to push for major paradigm shifts. This time, we do that by lying low.
This means taking social distancing seriously. It’s calling off those brunch plans with your friends, staying away from beaches and taking time to do activities at home.
Yes, it’s disruptive. I get it. I would love to get together with a group of friends for a workout class or dinner at our favorite restaurant. But I’m not going to, and you shouldn’t, either.
But hey, let’s get real and say you did go hang out on a crowded beach and now you realize it was a mistake (possibly on many levels).
Get our free weekly newsletter
So, stay home and break the chain of contagion. The fate of tens of thousands – possibly hundreds of thousands – comes down to a handful of individual decisions.
Let’s make a pact and commit to social distancing and protecting those we care most about. Call your friends and family, binge-watch your favorite shows, hold a virtual book group – heck, take lots of naps. We’ll get back to brunches and concerts once we’ve taken action, flattened the curve and shared social media posts about the importance of young people laying low.
See you soon,