Ask Mr. Dad: Teens, young adults and coronavirus: A perfect storm

Armin Brott |
Tribune News Service

Dear Mr. Dad: My older children are away at college in another state and, as far as I’m concerned, they’re behaving irresponsibly with regard to the coronavirus. Rather than come home and obey social distancing recommendations when their campuses cancelled classes, they opted to hang out with their classmates and have an extended spring break on the beach. According to them, young people are immune from the disease and the government’s rules are stupid. Now that they’ve had their fun, though, they’ve finally decided to come home. Honestly, my wife and are worried about whether that’s a good idea, since my 80-year-old widowed father-in-law lives with us. What are your thoughts?

A: I think that your characterization of your children’s behavior as “irresponsible” is generous. Here’s what French Interior Minister Christophe Castner said: “Some consider they’re little heroes when they break the rules. Well, no. You’re an imbecile, and especially a threat to yourself.” I think that sums it up pretty well.

Unfortunately, your children aren’t alone — either in disregarding well-founded recommendations from legitimate public-health and government sources or in behaving like imbeciles. We’ve all heard about the spring break parties in Florida and California.

And around the country, teens have taken to social media, posting videos of themselves in stores coughing on produce or licking products (like ice cream) and putting them back on shelves. In their eyes, what they’re doing is harmless and maybe even funny. But it’s not.

At the core of this problem is a fundamental misunderstanding of how the virus works. Yes, it’s true that the vast majority of people who’ve died from COVID-19 have been older than 60. It’s also true that young people who’ve been diagnosed with the virus generally have less-severe symptoms. However — and this is a really big “however” — that doesn’t mean that young people are immune or that they have no role to play in the growing pandemic. In fact, the opposite may be true.

Because their symptoms tend not to be severe, young people are less likely to seek medical help, meaning that they’re not getting tested. As a result, those who actually have the disease (which some undoubtedly do) aren’t being reported. That skews the figures we hear about every day and makes it seem as though young people aren’t affected. (This is likely to change in the very near future.)

But whether they’re counted or not, and whether they have symptoms or not, anyone with the disease is still contagious and is a danger to everyone around them — especially older people — family and friends alike.

If I were you, I’d have your kids tested before you let them come home where they could potentially expose their elderly grandfather to a deadly disease. And even if they test negative, I’d insist that they agree to abide by your rules for social distancing. Until we’re able to treat this disease and vaccinate others, it’s truly a matter of life and death.