Gen Zers and Millennials can help us fight coronavirus despite bad rap for taking pandemic lightly, say experts

The interconnectedness among younger generations may be key to spreading critical information to help "flatten the curve," especially since they can easily exploit tech and social media abilities for the greater good


                            Gen Zers and Millennials can help us fight coronavirus despite bad rap for taking pandemic lightly, say experts
(Getty Images)

Younger generations, especially Gen Z, may not be taking the coronavirus pandemic as seriously as they should.

This becomes rather obvious after a flurry of reports that points to such behavior: A "coronavirus party" in Kentucky where at least one attendee got the virus; A 21-year-old contracting COVID-19 after recording a video unabashedly disregarding social distancing guidelines, and spring breakers flocking to beach parties amid the pandemic. 

But while it might be easy to point the finger at Gen Zers or Millenials for their lack of societal concern, experts say the truth is a little more complex. It was previously understood that young people were essentially immune to serious complications from coronavirus, but obviously that has proven to be untrue with a series of exceptional cases.

Concerned about the spread of COVID-19 in large gatherings, students from the University of North Carolina School of the Arts wear respiratory masks as they wait for Democratic presidential candidate Sen. Bernie Sanders (I-VT) to speak to supporters during a rally and march to early vote on February 27, 2020, at Winston-Salem State University in Winston-Salem, North Carolina. (Getty Images)

Furthermore, the spread of faulty information came with an unregulated deluge of free time after schools and workplaces went into lockdown, spurring travel plans and parties.

"Younger people always have a sense of invincibility, that they’re not vulnerable to serious illnesses, and it doesn’t weigh on their minds much," John Greene, the chief of infectious diseases at Moffitt Cancer Center in Tampa, Florida, told USA Today.

In a conversation with MEAWW, Sharon Lauricella, Ph.D., Professor of Social Science and Humanities at Ontario Tech University, empathized with the spring breakers who came under fire.  "The ‘spring break’ trope is a long-established one," she noted. "However, such students are on break from their postsecondary education, and such studies can and ought to help students to make informed and thoughtful decisions."

"Critical thinking at the university level involves considering how our actions impact others, what it means to care, and how to best entertain ‘what if?’ scenarios—because often ‘what if?’ becomes ‘what now?’  Unfortunately in the case of spring breakers, critical thinking took a back seat in the short term—but not for long," she explained.

When asked whether younger generations were "seeking internet fame" with stunts such as coughing on produce, Lauricella explained it wasn't as simple as that. She took the example of Ohio high school graduate Brady Sluder and the backlash he received for his nonchalant comments.

"It may be tempting to argue that young people seek Internet fame and that stunts such as coughing on produce are the product of an attention-seeking culture," she said. "However, it is important to note that subsequent to Sluder’s interview in Miami, many social media users called out the spring breakers, accusing them of putting communities all over the country at risk."

Lauricella explained that the subsequent pushback served as a necessary "check" on reckless behavior.

"In this case, social media worked swiftly to bring attention to problematic behavior and functioned as a ‘check’ on reckless behavior. Sluder posted a lengthy apology on his Instagram account, indicating that he 'wasn’t aware of the severity' of his actions and that he was insensitive," she said.

"Thus what really prevailed in this situation was the vigilance of the community by means of social media rather than the reckless or selfish behavior of spring breakers," she concluded.

People line up to get a test at Elmhurst Hospital due to coronavirus outbreak on March 24, 2020, in Queens, New York, United States. (Getty Images)

Having said that, the interconnectedness among younger generations may be key to spreading critical information to help "flatten the curve," especially since they can easily exploit tech and social media abilities for the greater good.

Nipunie Rajapakse, an assistant professor of pediatrics at Mayo Clinic, told USA Today how younger people "have the power and ability to help amplify accurate information and recommendations about social distancing from reliable sources."

Last year, researchers at Princeton and New York University found that misinformation spreads a lot more quickly among older generations than among millennials and Gen Zers. And according to Greene, younger generations are already helping spread correct information effectively.

"With younger people, slowly, the vast majority of them are coming on board with understanding that social distancing can help prevent infections in their grandparents," he said. 

And their help could mean the difference between life and death considering the scale of the ongoing crisis.

"We really need their cooperation and understanding that these measures are being put in place to protect them, their friends and their families," Rajapakse added.

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