Young people and COVID-19: Why they may think they are invincible?

Updated: Jun. 22, 2020 at 7:15 PM CDT
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NEW ORLEANS, La. (WVUE) - Health care professionals are increasingly concerned over a spike in coronavirus cases among young adults and along with those concerns are questions about why young people may not be heeding in large numbers recommendations for wearing masks and social distancing.

Richard Costa, PsyD, is a licensed clinical psychologist in LSU Health New Orleans’ Department of Psychiatry.

He is not shocked by rising numbers of young people contracting the virus.

“I have to say, I’m not surprised, nothing’s really changed, we don’t have a vaccine, but we know as time goes by this is impacting everybody,” said Costa.

Recently newscasts have shown thousands of young people packed onto beaches and at other venues, many without masks and not social distancing. And last week some new clusters of COVID-19 cases in Louisiana were linked by health department officials to some Baton Rouge bars and large gatherings in New Orleans including a high school graduation party.

A young woman walking down Bourbon Street had on a surgical mask but eagerly expressed her dislike for wearing it.

“We actually get into the habit of pulling it down,” said Kamron Lege.

Costa was asked if young people tend to feel more invincible in general.

“I would say so, I mean, from a developmental standpoint in adolescents and young people, in general, tend to have a sense of invincibility, so absolutely,” he said.

But why?

“I think we can really go down to how the brain works and there’s a part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex which is really the last part of our brain to develop, doesn’t fully develop until our mid-20s and that’s the part of our brain that has to do with kind of forethought, planning, you know, reasoning and it allows us to sort of make the decisions that help to overcome, you know, impulse control problems,” Costa said.

And while the virus has so far been hardest on older adults and people with underlying medical conditions, the rise in cases among younger people shows it does not discriminate in attacking humans.

Costa believes how messaging is done to younger people is critical.

“We want to empower them so that they realize, okay, I can make a difference simply by staying home, simply by, you know, meeting with my friends in a socially distant circle outside and adhering to some of the CDC guidelines, in terms of, protecting us from not only contracting the virus, but more importantly spreading that virus to folks that are likely to get really sick,” he said.

He added that making them feel bad should not be the goal.

“Being kinder to the young folks rather than judging them and making them feel shamed,” said Costa. “Working with young folks it makes me nervous when they get really frustrated that folks are looking down on them and that could really, you know, take a toll on their self-esteem which sometimes you already see more insecurities in young folks anyway.”

He said the pandemic has greatly impacted what many children and young adults consider normal.

“I want to make sure that we are being mindful of the needs of young folks and recognize that they’re being impacted even if they’re not getting as sick; that young folks are being deprived of developmental milestones like being able to go to proms, you know, graduations, Sweet 16′s and birthdays and with that comes some real sense of disappointment, anger and frustration,” Costa stated.

And for adolescents, Costa thinks it might be worth parents or guardians easing up on social media restrictions to help with socialization during this time.

“I’m thinking more, in terms of, loosening the rules for time spent on social media that if it is meeting some of their socialization needs it might be a healthier alternative than just allowing folks to go out and indiscriminately being around lots of people where, you know, especially if they start drinking, while they may start off being more socially distant as their inhibitions come down they might forget what they need to be doing to maintain that,” said Costa.

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