Over the course of the last couple of months, Minnetonka, Hennepin County, and the greater Minnesota area has seen a sharp increase in the number of COVID-19 cases per capita. The cases per day steadily increased all throughout November, peaking at over 9,000 new cases daily in the days following Thanksgiving, when many families broke social distancing guidelines to gather for the holiday.
The daily death count also continues to climb in the Midwest, with Minnesota peaking at just over 100 deaths a day in late November. Schools closed and social activities were halted. Mask requirements began back in the spring and summer, yet the case numbers continue to climb.
Some speculators point to teenage gatherings as a main contributing factor. So, if this is true, the question remains: why, despite increased risk of infection and growing daily infection rates, do teenagers continually refuse to respect social distancing guidelines?
When questioned about how kids were social distancing in her neighborhood, one Minnetonka mother simply said, “they’re not.” While she said that “some of them were doing alright,” all miss social interaction, whether it be through “creating small social bubbles or blatantly ignoring social distancing guidelines.”
“Adolescence is a time when kids inherently seek out friendships outside of their house. […] It’s a time when there’s a lot of external focus,” she said. “Kids are just […] drawn to be with their friends; they’re drawn to that community” despite the risks.
To any students struggling with social isolation and respecting safety guidelines, she recommends that they “stay connected in the virtual environment. Try to engage with peers online, in and outside of class.” She also stressed the importance of exercise, healthy eating, and routines.
Her greatest advice was to hold a line of communication with trusted adults.
“Be honest about where you’re at and the struggles you’re facing. Take the help when offered. Remember that this is for a bigger cause and […] we all want to go back to […] some semblance of normal.”
Claire Dolan,’23, points to teenagers’ collective false sense of immunity as an alternative root cause for students’ reluctance to obey social distancing guidelines.
“I guess a lot of people think it can’t happen to them and, especially in teenagers, there’s this idea that they’re invincible and can’t get sick,” she said, “even though that’s not the case at all”.
Dolan also said that “so many people are sick of Covid [that] they’re just sort of dismissing it […] since they feel like they’ve already made their sacrifice and they don’t want to give up anything more”.
She also commented on the necessity of consistent coronavirus coverage in news and media, stressing that “it’s really important that when you turn on your radio, TV or open your phone, you’re reminded of the seriousness [of the coronavirus],” despite the fact that it can be “heavy and depressing.
“If people aren’t hearing the numbers and hearing the personal stories everyday, they will begin to ignore [safety guidelines] and start to forget how bad it really is,” she said.
Additionally, Dolan notes that “many people don’t know how bad [the virus] really is,” explaining that she and several members of her family believed they had it back in early spring. Given the severity of the disease and the fact that “hospitals are already at full capacity and there aren’t even enough tests” for all those with symptoms in many areas, she said that gathering in large groups “is really not a smart idea right now”.
Looking back, Dolan described her family’s encounter with the virus as a “wake up call for how serious [the disease] really was,” recalling how her family was turned away by a drive in clinic when they ran out of rapid tests.
Dolan says that when she hears about peers choosing to get together anyway despite the heightened case numbers, she “gets a little annoyed and irritated” because “there are lives at stake,” especially as more groups choose to gather inside as the weather gets colder.
“It’s hard for everyone […] but I feel like people just need to put up with [the restrictions] for a few more months or however long it is” until things can safely return to normal, she said, adding that she feels like she’s “missing out on a lot, like with friends and neighbors and stuff,” but in the end, “it’s just not worth all the losses”.