Thursday, July 7

Irresponsible or misunderstood? Young people in the second summer of a pandemic

“Is there a 20-year-old in the city who is not positive or in close contact?” Sergi, a 25-year-old boy who lives in Barcelona, ​​wondered this Thursday on his social networks. In Catalonia, the COVID-19 incidence rate exceeds 2,500 cases per 100,000 in children between 20 and 29 years old. That is, one in 50 people Sergi’s age is infected. We know this because the Center for the Coordination of Health Alerts and Emergencies began a week ago to publish segregated accumulated incidence data. The results: the national rate among those under 30 years of age is triple the general rate, exceeding 1,000 points, with explosions in Catalonia or Cantabria.

Given the headlines that this generated, the organ’s director, Fernando Simón, began his press conference last Monday with a conciliatory message and a non-blaming analysis: “The incidence among young people is not because they are young, it is fundamentally because they are not vaccinated. (…) The older people showed their responsibility, and were vaccinated between December and February. We asked the young people for the same effort, and they had to extend it more. ”

The sensation of Sergi is the one that many kids also have this summer that was promised as light after the pandemic. With the macro outbreak of Mallorca almost everything began, or at least it illustrated it: large groups of people who have not yet been immunized in an atmosphere of euphoria to see how life begins to resurface and nightlife returns and with the tranquility of having their parents and grandparents vaccinated (almost 90% of those over 40 have at least one dose).

“We are looking forward to going out and meeting people because we have been like this for two years”, sums up Juanma, 23 years old and from Madrid, who used to party frequently before and now has gone to “some places”, but says no to massive events. that “not only the young people are to blame,” but also those who have decided that the discos can be reopened.

“I want to see this as the final big regrowth”

Healthy young people have never been considered a risk group for COVID-19, their fatality does not reach 0.1% according to the Carlos III Health Institute; but their infections can cause a collapse in Primary Care, where they are diagnosed, and in Public Health, where they are tracked. The increase in the rate that it entails has caused Spain to appear in many lists of countries –and on the cover of Financial times– as a risky destination, with what that means for the tourist season.

Sources from the Ministry of Health explain that they are trying with their messages to reach them empathizing, without holding them responsible for the situation but making them understand the risks, as Simón tried. Proportionally they will be few, but numerically yes that a few can end up in the hospital; and at least 10% of their parents and grandparents have been able to develop “vaccine failure”, that is, they may have been vaccinated but not fully protected by the limitations of the efficacy of the drugs.

“Normally, behind these behaviors there are some thoughts, from ‘with everything we have locked up at home’ to ‘yes, totally, vulnerable people are already vaccinated”

Sara Liébana and Pedro Altungy
– Research psychologists from the Complutense University of Madrid

Among young people, explain sources from the agency, it is “more complicated” to limit outbreaks, for reasons that as they have more contacts than older people, because they do not want to “betray” acquaintances, or because they are afraid for their parents. Some Public Health experts are concerned about this outbreak. Quique Bassat, a researcher at ISGlobal, regrets that it is happening “because of the foolishness of young people, and due to the lack of agility and proactivity of those who have to do something to respond to the challenge.” Ildefonso Hernández, spokesperson for the Spanish Public Health Society, recalls that people “know what to do, they know it perfectly. Especially young people, who have been taking measures in their educational centers for months, for example.” But, Hernández continues, everything has happened with “a general public perception that things were on track and that it did not matter so much that someone was infected because they were going to have a favorable prognosis, or they were not going to infect anyone.”

Berta, who is 29 years old and also lives in Barcelona, ​​has a similar feeling to Sergi: “It seems that I am dodging COVID like a ninja. I feel that absolutely everyone is positive or confined.” Co-workers, friends, acquaintances of friends. She counts eight confirmed in her more or less close environment. And it overwhelms him for several reasons: “I don’t even want to think about another collapse. And the holidays are coming, after this year it scares me to think that they can be frustrated by catching COVID a week before.” At the same time, “knowing that most vulnerable people are vaccinated gives me a lot of peace of mind. I do want to see this as the final big regrowth.” She is now going to Sicily for a few days with her girlfriend. Juanma has chosen to go camping in Europe: “We believe that it is not such a dangerous or overcrowded plan.”

The incidence of recent infections in each age group

Evolution of the incidence of cases in 14 days per 100,000 inhabitants in each age group since March 2021

How do you go from heroes to villains?

Sara Liébana and Pedro Altungy are researchers at the Complutense University of Madrid, and they worked on the phone created by the General Council of Psychology of Spain and the Ministry of Health during the worst of the pandemic. They answer by listing the phases that children, youth and adolescents have gone through since the crisis began. “A first, during confinement, where they spoke of a population that was very affected because their studies were altered, and it was said how brave they were being.” Then, on their phone they received many calls from children, adolescents and young people with problems about uncertainty, difficulty with classes, or who felt that they were losing an irrecoverable time of their life. A second phase, last summer, “where they were reinforced ‘how well they were behaving’. There was talk that they were true heroes.” And a third arrives: “A generalized fatigue has been developing. They are seeing how the elderly are vaccinated, their families, all except them.”

This third phase has started this summer. “We expected them to meet the same goals as last summer, but on many occasions they have not.” “Nightlife has opened its doors and they wanted to celebrate everything they hadn’t been able to do in the last year, isn’t that what we were all hoping for?” These two psychologists wonder. “Normally, behind these behaviors there are some thoughts, from” with everything that we have locked up at home “to” yes, totally, vulnerable people are already vaccinated “, they continue. And it adds that” every time they go out, they deny what they So much fear has given us since March 2020: infecting ourselves. Little by little they are losing their fear of the virus, they verify that if a friend has been infected, nothing has happened to him, he has only been confined and practically without symptoms. In the end, it is the way they have to socialize, join in parties, houses and events all together. The problem is that at certain hours of the morning, many times, the mask is conspicuous by its absence. ”

Liébana and Altugny also emphasize that “we may be falling into an attentional bias: we look only at those young people who behave in a way that is not desired by the rest of society. What happens to those who are complying with the rules and who are are you putting in the same sack? “. Like Blanca, who is 21 years old, she studies Medicine and her first internships took her to the front line in a Madrid hospital. She has been vaccinated for months but, due to what she went through those months with just basic knowledge, she continues to take the same precautions as when she was not. Including the mask. Because of that, and because he lives with his 100-year-old grandfather. “I do not know if it is already part of me or is the result of an irrational fear,” he admits, but he does know that he prefers not to risk because a simple cold, his grandfather, “evolves into pneumonia.”

“The first day in the hospital I saw a 40-year-old patient intubated, but then more came,” he recalls. During those months, he confined himself outside his home so as not to endanger his family. “I was alone and I saw people on Instagram having dinner out every day or going out to party. And I did not blame them. But what has happened in hospitals is a part of the reality that we should all have seen,” he says. Even so, he sees the stigmatization of young people as “unfair” because “the bottle of 21-year-olds is striking, but not those of 50 who spend the day drinking. We have broken the rules sooner or later, people of all the ages, “he opines.

The youth of trips and mass parties does not “represent” you and is critical, but understands fatigue. And he empathizes with people like his little brother, for whom the 2020-2021 academic year was his first in college: “He went to class and went direct, and it makes me very sad. Making friends in the first year is essential. We had very scared by the subject of my grandfather, but loneliness also weighs heavily “.

“You have to make them see that for this to recover they have to be vaccinated as soon as they can, not call them fools”

Amos Garcia Rojas
– President of the Spanish Association of Vaccination

“You have to win them for the cause”

“The behavior of young people has not changed so much, but the epidemiological and social context,” says anthropologist Carles Feixa. For the researcher, this age group is doing the same thing they did “a year ago, when the confinement ended and the summer began”, the difference lies in several factors. First, “there were no vaccines” for young people; on the other hand, there are now “variants of the virus that spread it much faster.” Lastly, the researcher points out the “youth-phobic discourse” spread that “has the opposite effect to the one it persecutes, since they are constantly blamed”. That is what the Ministry of Health is avoiding. “You have to win them for the cause,” says Amós García Rojas, president of the Spanish Association of Vaccination and advisor in the Ministry, “to make them see that for this to recover they have to be vaccinated as soon as they can, do not call them fools” .

The behaviors that are observed have to do with the type of socialization of young people, continues the anthropologist Feixa: “In the youth stage, social proximity has always been the lifeline, it is the stage of moving from the family to the environment social through interpersonal contact “. When this contact with other people disappears, “either they take refuge in virtual space, as many have done, as an escape; or they seek to subvert these predictions through clandestine social contacts.”

Reyes and Maricarmen, 23, are from Jaén and Córdoba, and will be traveling this summer with friends. They assure that they will do so while respecting security measures: “You have to comply with the rules, that you go on vacation does not mean that there is no pandemic.” Begoña, a 25-year-old woman from Murcia, will also travel: “If the laws allow you to travel, you are not going to tell people not to do it, you cannot leave everything to citizen responsibility.” Carles Feixa refers to people like them. Young people see, he says, after more than a year of pandemic and social distance, reconnecting with their friends and recovering the activities they used to do as an escape route in a psychologically complex context. For the anthropologist, the kids “are no more irresponsible or selfish than other age groups, but they are seen as such” because they are the protagonists of contagion.