Most reports about COVID-19 focused on how the elderly were at greater risk from the virus. However, new reports are indicating that younger age groups, such as millennials and Gen Z, are vulnerable as well.
During the White House daily briefing on the pandemic, U.S. coronavirus task force coordinator Dr. Deborah Birx expressed concern that there would be a disproportionate number of infections among younger generations. This came after reports had arrived from Europe that indicated that some members of these age groups are getting seriously from the disease.
“There are concerning reports coming out of France and Italy about some young people getting seriously ill, and very seriously ill, in the ICU,” said Birx.
Not just the elderly at risk
So far, the majority of deaths from COVID-19 have been from the elderly as well as those underlying health conditions. As such, health officials worldwide have put more focus on the risks that the outbreak poses to these people, than to younger ones like millennials and Gen Z. This seems to have given the latter generations a false sense of security, making them pay less heed to calls to avoid public gatherings and observe social distancing.
“We think part of this may be that people heeded the early data coming out of China and coming out of South Korea about the elderly or those with pre-existing medical conditions were at particular risk,” stated Birx.
President Donald Trump also weighed in with his own message for young people, some of whom believe that the dangers of the coronavirus have been overblown. He called on younger generations to avoid large gatherings not just to protect themselves, but to protect their loved ones as well.
“I don’t know if you felt invincible when you were very young, but they were feeling totally invincible, or are feeling that way, but they don’t realize that they could be carrying lots of bad things home to grandmother and grandfather and even their parents. So, we want them to heed the advice,” stated the president.
The calls for caution come as thousands of American college students refuse to let the COVID-19 outbreak get in the way of spring break. The annual break traditionally sees American college students going to beaches in Florida and even Mexico.
Deaths among the young are still low
Despite the calls for caution, Birx reassured Americans that there have not been significant numbers of deaths among young people.
“We have not seen any significant mortality in the children,” said Birx. “But we are concerned about the early reports coming out of Italy and France. So again, I’m going to call on that generation … not only calling on you to heed what’s in the guidance, but to really ensure that each and every one of you are protecting each other.”
Younger generations tend to “stare down” problems
The reasons younger generations may be continuing to go out, ignoring calls for social distancing may be more than just from early reports stating that the elderly were more at risk. These younger generations’ nonchalant attitude towards the outbreak may also be down to psychology.
“Every generation will react differently [to COVID-19] based on the experiences that generation has had,” stated Paul Gionfriddo, president and CEO of the nonprofit Mental Health America (MHA).
Gionfriddo says that these younger generations tend to “stare down” problems as coping or survival mechanism. This, he says, could be why millennials continue to go out to bars and restaurants despite the threat of the disease.
Studies have already suggested that millennials are actually more stressed than other generations, giving them the nickname “the worry generation.” Meanwhile, a 2018 survey by the American Psychiatric Association (APA) shows that Gen Z are more likely to report poor mental health than other generations.
“When you tack on something like [COVID-19], you’re basically not going to see as dramatic a change in their outlook, because the generation is already so stressed,” stated Gionfriddo.
That said, Gionfriddo stated that it’s important that everyone, regardless of their age, understand that the threat of COVID-19 is real and should be taken seriously.